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A loose-fit, unisex tee
A neon sign is a lighting display made of glass tubes that have been filled with a gas and bent into the shape of letters or decorative designs. When a high-voltage electrical current is passed through the gas, the tubes emit light. Although neon gas was originally used in these signs, several other gases are also used. These gases, along with different tints and phosphor coatings for the glass tubes, produce a spectrum of over 50 brilliant colors. Neon signs can be as simple as a small advertising sign for beer, or as complex as a multi-story facade on a Las Vegas casino.
Neon signs evolved from scientific experiments in which various gases were subjected to high-voltage currents. In 1856, Heinrich Geissler produced a light source by passing a high-voltage alternating current through a low-pressure gas sealed in a glass tube. Subsequent experiments showed that almost all gases would conduct an electric current, and that many would produce light. The problem was that most of the common gases, like carbon dioxide, would react with the current-carrying electrodes within the sealed tube. This quickly reduced the efficiency of the electrodes until the light sputtered and died. In 1898, Sir William Ramsay and Morris William Travers developed a method for the fractional distillation of liquid air. In the process, they discovered the rare gas elements neon, argon, krypton, and xenon. Using these gases in sealed glass tubes, they produced colored light sources ranging from a bright reddish-orange for neon to an intense grayish-blue or violet for argon. Not only did these gases produce colored light, but they were chemically inert and did not react with the electrodes.
Fractional distillation of liquid air remained an expensive process until 1907 when Georges Claude of France and Karl von Linde of Germany developed a more economical method. Georges Claude's original interest was to produce quantities of oxygen for use in hospitals and industries. The rare gases that were also produced by this distillation process had no ready market, which prompted Claude to seek potential applications. Utilizing the previous experimental work of Ramsay and Travers, he began promoting illuminated signs using tubes filled with neon gas. He displayed his first neon sign at an exposition in Paris in 1910, and made his first commercial installation in 1912. By 1915, business was so promising that he formed the Claude Neon sign company and began selling franchises.
Neon signs came to the United States in 1923 when a Los Angeles car dealer, Earle C. Anthony, bought two of Claude's signs for his Packard dealership. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, neon tubes were used for signage as well as decorative displays, and they became an integral part of the architecture of many buildings. By 1947, several casinos in Las Vegas began to draw attention with their elaborate neon lights.
During the 1950s and 1960s, neon signs were slowly displaced by plastic signs illuminated from the inside with fluorescent tubes. Recently, neon has made a comeback in both commercial signage and as an artistic medium.
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