Up in Lights: The History of Neon

For years in the early twentieth century there was one kind of light that dominated above all else: Neon.

This is original content based on research by The History Guy. Images in the Public Domain are carefully selected and provide illustration. As very few images of the actual event are available in the Public Domain, images of similar objects and events are used for illustration.

You can purchase the bow tie worn in this episode at The Tie Bar:

All events are portrayed in historical context and for educational purposes. No images or content are primarily intended to shock and disgust. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Non censuram.

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Script by JCG

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  • "Liquefied air" may be the greatest of oxymorons.

    jlillerjliller5 өдрийн өмнө
  • Awe the beautiful glow of neon along Route 66 the good ole days.

    Movin' MarkMovin' Mark16 өдрийн өмнө
  • In early 1965 when I was 9 years old, my family moved to Astoria in Queens N.Y. I couldn't believe the luck ! We would live right across the street from a old two pump Flying A gas station with a huge red neon Pegasus that would be lit up at night and I could just sit and look at it from my bedroom window just totally enthralled. 🤤

    George BGeorge B21 өдрийн өмнө
  • Now I'm singing "Neon Moon" by Brooks & Dunn ! :)

    Kitty HawkKitty Hawk24 өдрийн өмнө
  • A neat little bit of historical "Corporate" connection: In 1990 I began working at a sign supply distributor in Birmingham, AL. Obviously, the company supplied materials for making neon signs... (glass tubing, electrodes, etc.),which we purchased from Voltarc Technologies. During that time, I learned that "Voltarc" was part of and later mostly absorbed into Perkin Elmer Corporation....which was sub-contracted by NASA/Eastman Kodak Company to build the primary mirror for the Hubble Space Telescope.

    Kitty HawkKitty Hawk24 өдрийн өмнө
  • We measure length in yards in this country, not meters.

    Greg HawkinsGreg Hawkins24 өдрийн өмнө
  • Stop calling people by their last names. Call them by their first names.

    Greg HawkinsGreg Hawkins24 өдрийн өмнө
  • Another Scotsman Inventor.... surely kids are being taught everything was invented by Sub Saharan Africans now.

    C MC M24 өдрийн өмнө
  • I've always loved neon signs, especially the more elaborate ones. BTW, one of the sight gags in the "Police Squad!" TV series involved a neon sign. The detectives were following up a lead at the "Club Flamingo", which had a motion-animated neon sign of a guy clubbing a flamingo!

    raydunakinraydunakin24 өдрийн өмнө
  • Pearly G Nothing?

    Clint HoweClint Howe24 өдрийн өмнө
  • THG, you are the master of the end-of-video wrap up.

    Phil LiberatorePhil Liberatore24 өдрийн өмнө
  • I suppose it would be obvious to most of the people who would watch this, but no mention of the fact neon signs have been mostly replaced by LEDs, especially addressable RBG LEDs?

    Tom BurkeTom Burke25 өдрийн өмнө
  • Most, today, are the faux, LED type (e.g. the flashin' red/blue "OPEN" signs seen in many a storefront).

    Madness832Madness83225 өдрийн өмнө
  • Yo, History Guy: 1. A chair is an inanimate object used for sitting on. William Ramsey was not in inanimate object used for sitting on. He was the Chairman of the Chemistry Department at University College in London. 2. When a the vast majority of this neon lighting was being produced, it was measured in feet or yards. Lots of people (myself included) still use those units of measure so try to be a little more considerate.

    clutch cargoclutch cargo27 өдрийн өмнө
  • "And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon God they made"

    Rutger HauerRutger Hauer27 өдрийн өмнө
  • The Merrimaker bar-Baywood Park California.

    Tom FrazierTom Frazier27 өдрийн өмнө
  • Kinda miss the old intro... maybe a throw back one day? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    James StewartJames Stewart28 өдрийн өмнө
  • Tulsa Oklahoma recently instituted a program to help businesses install neon signs in route 66. Over a dozen have gone in and the historic Meadow Gold dairy sign was fully repaired.

    ivsciguyivsciguy28 өдрийн өмнө
  • Why do you not expose the History of Periodic System at all ?

    Gabriele BonatoGabriele Bonato29 өдрийн өмнө
  • Your just the best channel on MNthe

    Cool DaddyCool DaddyСарын өмнө
  • Gosh - Boy, did this episode of THG dredge up warm memories of growing as a military brat. I remember each city or town had its own mixture of neon signs. Your montage of neon sign brought back some really dusty memories. THANKS, History Guy.

    Rex MyersRex MyersСарын өмнө
  • I can still picture the Dog N Suds neon sign from my early childhood in the midwest where my dad would take the family for a frost mug of root beer if we had "been good" that day.

    Randall FabianRandall FabianСарын өмнө
  • I have seen a lot of people focus on the bad act or the wrong choices of people, rather than to recognize and focus on the good that they had accomplished. We should try to never forget the good that people have done as many people have been able to make life easier for the rest of us. Mankind, in our fallen state, will make wrong choices at times, but we shouldn't discredit individuals completely when we can clearly see something good that they accomplished.

    Michael DelvecchioMichael DelvecchioСарын өмнө
  • A local neon sign shop has always been one of my favorite mysteries. Hope they make it after the year of covid. Thanks for another Enlightening piece of history.

    bobm549bobm549Сарын өмнө
  • Well, it only lacks a mention of neon in casette futurism / cyberpunk culture usage the 'neon' theme.

    EldexoEldexoСарын өмнө

    The Creamy OneThe Creamy OneСарын өмнө
  • Thanks for this ! Very fun to learn more about neon!

    Harper WelchHarper WelchСарын өмнө
  • Nicely done 🙂

    LeeEric KingLeeEric KingСарын өмнө
  • When I was a kid in the 1960s, I made up Leon Cleon Deon, the Neon/Freon King, a Machiavellian monopolist who controlled the use of those gasses across the country. Looks like you've shown me the true version of him. Thanks

    gejyspagejyspaСарын өмнө
  • As a babyboomer one of my junk scores as a kid was removing the high voltage transformers from a couple of discarded neon signs and making a Jacobs Ladder. Painfully that also taught me pencil lead is conductive. My maternal grandparents had a country store after WWII and had a couple of neon signs in the window. If I remember correctly one advertised milk, I can't remember what the other one was about.

    Tom SchmidtTom SchmidtСарын өмнө
  • Neon may be dying but the style of neon is going to survive thanks to LED tubes. That said, it's just not the same, LEDs allow new things but they just don't look like the the proper neon thing. That said, in Germany fluorescent tubes are commonly called Neonröhren even though the whites ones don't contain neon at all.

    Ralf BaechleRalf BaechleСарын өмнө
  • I remember when neon signs used naked glass where it was the gas that gave the light with the color depending on the gas used. Different gasses, different colors. It was etheric. Then came using mercury filled tubes using different colored phosphors like the florescent tubes (lame). Now we have LEDs (LAME). You cannot replace the look of a Geissler tube. Anything else for display just looks like it's bought from the $2 shop.

    James CannJames CannСарын өмнө
  • I've always loved the look of neon signs. Just a beautiful thing to me.

    Kay LewKay LewСарын өмнө
  • This shines a whole new light on things.

    white rabbit 1968white rabbit 1968Сарын өмнө
  • Two famous large scale neon signs that fell into disrepair that were restored using LEDs are the Domino Sugar sign in Baltimore Maryland 1951 and the Western Auto sign in Kansas City 1952.

    Sand Box JohnSand Box JohnСарын өмнө
  • There were FINALLY Closed Captions on this one. Sometimes it takes DAYS for your vids to get them. Can you light a fire under them and see if they can fix that glitch -- others get Closed Captions up in a few hours, some just appear with them in place. Some of us are heard of hearing, need text to help follow the narrative. I enjoy much of your subject matter. Went through a tunnel at Chicago's O'Hare (running with luggage and kids to catch the next flight) and it seemed there was a rainbow of neon tubes arching the tunnel... Do I remember this correctly? It was spectacular enough that I remembered it, but I was distracted enough that I wasn't looking at details. If I did see that, is it still there?

    Avery MilieuAvery MilieuСарын өмнө
  • Even as far away as New Zealand, I remember in the Sixties or so there was a business called Claude Neon. I was young enough to imagine it was owned by a Mr. Neon, first name Claude. :-) In the Seventies there survived, visible from much of Auckland, The "Kiwi Bacon" sign. Salted Endangered Species comes to mind now, LOL!

    flamencoprofflamencoprofСарын өмнө
  • Neon is the primary gas used in the photolithography lasers and flat panel display manufacturing systems which make every computer/cell phone/electronic gadget you can think of. Kind of a big deal to miss that since it's a heck of a lot more prevalent today than neon signs! 🤦‍♂️

    BrianBrianСарын өмнө
  • If you are ever in Cincinnati check out the American Sign Museum. More than neon, but they have a nice collection of neon signs and are restoring them.

    Steven KleinSteven KleinСарын өмнө
  • There's a club in Toronto called The El Mocambo where the Rolling Stones once played a surprise set in 1977. It's classic neon sign has been restored and if we can ever get through this pandemic, the club will hopefully live on.

    Brian BallBrian BallСарын өмнө
  • who else remembers neon all over malls from the 80s and 90s

    Patraic EmeryPatraic EmeryСарын өмнө
  • Well now another informative channel on my phone.

    Dan L ValuesDan L ValuesСарын өмнө
  • Vegas is still a vulgar disneyland

    Celtic BatmanCeltic BatmanСарын өмнө
  • Great bit of history well told but the video would be better if, say, there were an inset or overlay showing the key people, names and dates. There are quite a few historical figures involved in the story and, unless you're taking notes, it's very difficult to keep track of them all. Of course the photos of the key people help but some kind of a visual showing a list of key names would much improve the video. And it would probably be pretty easy to add.

    Pythonic BluePythonic BlueСарын өмнө
  • My ex-wife has a neon sign from her dad's restaurant, the words "Bud Light" surrounded by an outline of an alligator. It hung in our apartment for a while and made a hell of a conversation piece and, ahem, mood light. We ultimately took it down when our daughter started running around, fearful that she'd get a hold of the string to turn it on and off and pull it down on top of her. That light was easily the coolest thing we owned.

    Sterling CrockettSterling CrockettСарын өмнө
  • Cool topic today. What about the history of some hand tools like pliers or ratchets?

    Liberty Stuff'n'Things ReviewsLiberty Stuff'n'Things ReviewsСарын өмнө
  • @ 7:46 that's the Rose Bowl, not LA Coliseum

    wiedepwiedepСарын өмнө
  • Your episodes always make my day brighter

    Robert PierceRobert PierceСарын өмнө
  • “Poetry of the night” Excellent word image

    Anasazi TribeAnasazi TribeСарын өмнө
  • Grew up in the 80s with my Dad spending a weekend every month in Canton Texas, at the Trades Days, with a booth. We sold both collectable advertising signs and custom works made by a bender. Fond memories.

    Shadrach Van SolanShadrach Van SolanСарын өмнө
  • Let's not forget the 1971 movie "The Neon Ceiling."

    Vladimir Stephen JacksonVladimir Stephen JacksonСарын өмнө
  • My favorite from when I was very young was the Diving Lady Neon Sign of the Starlite motel in Mesa Arizona. It has been refurbished and is as beautiful and unique today as it was when I was a kittle kid and I'm now 70. You can see it on MNthe under "Diving Lady Neon Sign".

    David & Angela MelcherDavid & Angela MelcherСарын өмнө
  • I'm a child of the 80's, so neon (literally or figuratively) will always have a place in my heart.

    Arioch IVArioch IVСарын өмнө
  • You left out the part about how the Mafia was so invested in controlling the sign business. Hey perhaps that's why there were so many neon signs in Vancouver. Jimmy was part of the Mafia.

    Gra GorGra GorСарын өмнө
  • Neon is gradually disappearing in Vegas, replaced by giant multi-story video screens. The casinos with the neon signs out front are often the ones that need renovation or demolition.

    Max DratsMax DratsСарын өмнө
  • Hey, I like dive bars and seedy hotels! :)

    Patrick PalmerPatrick PalmerСарын өмнө
  • Earl Anthony also owned KFI radio in L.A.

    Joe BJoe BСарын өмнө
  • Neon starts to have a downfall.......here i am laughing in 1980's!!!

    Kevyn HansynKevyn HansynСарын өмнө
  • Growing up in Los Angles in the 1950s and '60s it seemed like neon was everywhere. The Crest and Town theaters in Long Beach were covered. I'm always on the lookout for discarded signs for the transformers and the occasional Un broken tube.

    Make Racists Afraid AgainMake Racists Afraid AgainСарын өмнө
  • Live in las vegas i miss them neon signs now it gone to LED /ITS not the same

    Realjiffy ResidentRealjiffy ResidentСарын өмнө
    • YESCO even built an led pole sign for the NEON MUSEUM. Traitors🤔😥

      Tony DanzlTony DanzlСарын өмнө
  • I'm a new generation neon sign bender! :) It's huge amongst millennials right now. Literally bending neon is the hardest thing I have ever taken on in life.

    Bing ReisingBing ReisingСарын өмнө
    • @Tony Danzl it truly is unfortunate. The community that is around today is great, however!

      Bing ReisingBing ReisingСарын өмнө
    • Few will learn in today's world.

      Tony DanzlTony DanzlСарын өмнө
  • Makes me thinks of the Kraftwerk song Neon Lights.

    Helium RoadHelium RoadСарын өмнө
  • "Some girl with psychic power, she said, 'T-Bone, what's your sign?' I blink and answer, 'Neon!' I thought I'd blow her mind."

    SoloPilot6SoloPilot6Сарын өмнө
    • Ah, I see you are a man of culture. "Existential Blues."

      somercet1somercet129 өдрийн өмнө
  • I have two working neon beer signs in my shop, both advertising extinct beer brands. Why? Because I enjoy owning bits of history.

    David SaulDavid SaulСарын өмнө
  • I really don't care what some people may say... NEON and NEON "like" colored signs to me - look TOTALLY BADASS, PERIOD!!! Besides, they are rare form of art AND craftsmanship that should have NEVER gone away!

    Tim BaumannTim BaumannСарын өмнө
  • One of my uncles learned how to make neon art so he could help restore a historic sign. This is a nearly lost art.

    James DrisselJames DrisselСарын өмнө
  • I’m a neon bender of 41 years, and still enjoy making it. Neon now has taken a sad turn to disappearing due to the lack of new benders, and the introduction of leds. You can’t replace the warm glow of neon that will always grab your attention! My slogan is “the lights of futures past”

    Robert BodekRobert BodekСарын өмнө
    • While it's true that LEDs are more energy efficient and is easier to install there's something about the glowing tubes of neon that can't be replicated.

      Real life Bambi: Deer at the FarmReal life Bambi: Deer at the FarmСарын өмнө
  • The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati is a terrific display. They have a great neon collection. Absolutely worth a visit. I wish I could post photos here.

    Edward GregoryEdward GregoryСарын өмнө
  • THG-- Closing statement: well said!

    Crusty CurmudgeonCrusty CurmudgeonСарын өмнө
  • As a practicing neon bender in the US, I commend you for your research! Thank you for sharing my craft with the world.

    Hex NeonHex NeonСарын өмнө
  • You should do a history of "The History Guy" intros. looks different every time

    bavondalebavondaleСарын өмнө
  • Earl C. Anthony, mentioned at 7:15 was also an early radio pioneer. He founded two Los Angeles first radio stations. KECA and KFI. KFI is still on the air today.

    James S.James S.Сарын өмнө
  • The german band Kraftwerk even made a song called "Neonlicht" (neonlight): mnthe.info/bill/video/kMOcxZ6pY4GZcng

    2manyIce2manyIceСарын өмнө
  • You do not mention Hong Kong or any other Asian cities either...except for a passing mention of Tokyo I think! History did not take place in the West alone...would do good to remember! Nice video though...and do not take me wrong, I do like and appreciate your content and the work that goes into making them. Thank you.

    HarishHarishСарын өмнө
    • Unfortunately, led's have pretty much killed the Neon trade there also.😥

      Tony DanzlTony DanzlСарын өмнө
  • I Love These Old Signs, Thanks For the History Lesson

    Terry MatvichukTerry MatvichukСарын өмнө
  • What about bubbling neon?

    Gordon HaireGordon HaireСарын өмнө
  • @8.50, Claude Neon advertised Neon signs as '...Dignity and Attractive...'. Yes, that man deserved to be 'locked up'! Great video! Yall Take Care and be safe, John

    John DoeJohn DoeСарын өмнө
  • "A grotesque Disneyland" was the idea so mission accomplished.

    Bryan de PaepeBryan de PaepeСарын өмнө
  • I remember seeing a large neon sign in Manila that served as an advertisement for San Miguel Beer. The sign could be viewed while passing over a bridge spanning the Pasig River. I believe the letters were supposed to light up in a orderly fashion, with the word "beer" appearing in full. However, when I saw it, the letters lit up something like this: S-AN-MI-G-UEL-BEER.

    Cris HeltCris HeltСарын өмнө
  • Tokyo

    Karate JoeKarate JoeСарын өмнө
  • It’s a shame Neon isn’t as popular as it used to be. They’re the only type of advertising worth looking at.

    Mean GeneMean GeneСарын өмнө
  • Colin Hay referred to neon lights in his Men At Work song, Overkill: “At least there's pretty lights And though there's little variation It nullifies the night From overkill”

    flyswryanflyswryanСарын өмнө
  • In the 1930s, a Frenchman was taken to see Times Square by night. He said, "How magnificent it would be, if only one could not read."

    Lewis TaishoffLewis TaishoffСарын өмнө
  • I miss the 20th century. At least the future was still a better place.

    Simon OlsenSimon OlsenСарын өмнө
  • It's true, neon really is the defining thing of the 20th century night life.

    seattlegrrlieseattlegrrlieСарын өмнө
  • Lance, one of your more poetic endeavors. Keep up the good work.

    Vincent NorlockVincent NorlockСарын өмнө
  • It's amazing to me how cities in old films look more futuristic than today's do due to all the neon. And that sign that blows steam? I've never heard of anything like it. That's something I'd expect only in a video game.

    Scott PrazakScott PrazakСарын өмнө
  • Cool

    GHILLIE7566GHILLIE7566Сарын өмнө
  • I wonder if the use of neon is responsible for the term "red-light district", as it's usually a seedy, late-night part of the city? Edit: nvm, I should have just watched a few more minutes before typing. My bad. :-P

    aussiebloke609aussiebloke609Сарын өмнө
  • What about pineapple? As a topic, I mean ....

    K. CK. CСарын өмнө
  • Sad fact: Neon signs are dying fast because there aren’t enough people going into the industry that builds, repairs and services them to replace worker loss due to age/retirement.

    Veteran Iron&WoodVeteran Iron&WoodСарын өмнө
    • They aren't learning because the demand is small. The vast majority of "Full Service Sign Companies " have long since shutered/closed/discarded their Neon Plants.

      Tony DanzlTony DanzlСарын өмнө
  • In Lynchburg, Virginia, there used to be a neon sign, on a rooftop, advertising the "Hotel Virginian". Local (and possibly apocryphal) history claims that group of clever young fellows climbed up there, and did a bit of creative rewiring, so the the sign then said "Hot Virgin"

    MrLargePigMrLargePigСарын өмнө
  • I'm lit. Call me neon. I glow at night and my clothes are radioactive.

    Darrell CookDarrell CookСарын өмнө
  • There is small museum park dedicated to neon signs in College, AZ. It is off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. In Benson AZ on Highway 80 is the Horseshoe Cafe, established in the 1930's. It has a massive neon sign shaped like a horseshoe. It is still working and used even though it needs repair. I remember it from early childhood, now 82 years old.

    Wanda DibbleWanda DibbleСарын өмнө
    • That is Coolige AZ. Tablet changed spelling. It does this with oddly spelled words. Sorry.

      Wanda DibbleWanda DibbleСарын өмнө
  • I love neon signs. It reminds me of better times. Comfort signs, if you will.

  • Amazing writing & delivery. Just amazing. Neon to me, as a detective crime writer, always evokes the Noir ethos, and the seedy underbelly of Post WWII US urban landscapes.

    InfoScholarInfoScholarСарын өмнө
  • I'm a retired regional route driver and, as long as the beds didn't break my back, I'd stay in the older strip motels with the neon running along the roof before a La Quinta or some such other place. It was comforting in a way as we took a yearly vacation to the west coast in the late 50's and early '60s and the lights from neon signs and such lit up my vacation nights delightfully. You knew you were on an adventure when you woke up in the middle of the night and saw reflected neon light.

    peter bloodpeter bloodСарын өмнө
  • My grandfather owned a bar right after prohibition, story in my family is that it was the first neon sign in the state, but I can't confirm this. The bar was Blinkin' Al's, and the neon was a blinking owl. I wish the sign was still around!

    Ryan RobertsRyan RobertsСарын өмнө
  • I was an electrician for 50 years and ran power for a few Neon signs. Never know that some contain poisonous mercury. Never got around to purchasing a Neon sign. Thanks history guy.

    izzy garboizzy garboСарын өмнө
  • The appeal of neon has led to the introduction of LED tape light light: LEDs in a silicone tube with a translucent front that simulates neon tubing. Although they only throw light in one direction, and are perhaps less versatile then glass tubes, they are both durable enough and economical enough to allow home hobbyists to create their own signs or decorations.

    James BrownJames BrownСарын өмнө