On the 3rd December 1910, the first neon light went on show at the Paris Motor Show. Invented by Frenchman Georges Claude, the first neon lights were simply 35m long tubes. However, by 1912 he had begun to create advertising signs using the new technology with the first apparently being sold to a Parisian barber.
Claude’s neon lighting at the Paris Motor Show was used simply to light the front of the large exhibition space at the Grand Palais with red lighting. Frustrated that the red light meant his invention couldn’t be used to replace conventional home lighting, Claude was persuaded by his friend and associate, Jacques Fonseque, to use it for advertising. After the first successful sign was sold to the barber, a large sign for the alcoholic drink Cinzano became the first use of neon to actively advertise a product.
Claude patented his invention in 1915, which gave him a virtual monopoly over the production of neon lights for the first few years of their existence. However, it wasn’t until he sold the first neon lights to a Los Angeles-based car dealer in 1923 that he really began to take advantage of his creation. The new ‘liquid fire’ signs as some people referred to them became – in some places – even more popular than the businesses they were advertising, with signs such as Vegas Vic at Las Vegas’ Pioneer Club becoming cultural icons.
Neon lighting is still a popular form of advertising in the 21st Century, but has also made its way into many homes: the technology forms the basis of plasma televisions.