Many experts in the lighting field believe that the overall outlook for neon signage seems to be very optimistic. Neon signs have a record of 100 years of successful use in advertising. If there were no neon signs cities and towns would be darker places and the neon sign industry would cease to exist, but that is not likely to occur. |
Let's start with some general information about neon such as why it's used, uses other than advertising, where it's used here and in other countries, neon signage around the world, and so much more. Everyone knows its main use is for advertising and that's what keeps the neon sign industry going, but it has many other uses that are beneficial to the public. Enjoy watching TV? Neon is used in in television tubes. Do you have a neon wall clock? Neon lighting is use in the home and in many businesses to enhance and highlight dark areas. It is used in gas lasers is used to remove eye cataracts and for other medical problems. Many people have flown, but did you know this? It has been used in beacons and it has can be seen by pilots have seen it 20 miles away when it was impossible for them to see other kinds of lights. Neon lights can be seen through the fog. Many travelers have found it very helpful when looking for a motel on a foggy night. Neon does all this and more.
However, neon's biggest and most widely-known use is in neon signs. What makes it so useful for signs? There are two reasons for this. First neon is a first-rate conductor of electricity, and secondly it has the amazing ability to give off light that can be seen at great distances. As hard as it may be to believe neon technology started in Europe in 1675. It's not that neon signs were invented then but just the idea that would grow into the modern neon sign. In fact, strange as it may seem electricity was not even discovered yet. These two ideas developed independently because neither was dependent upon the other being in place.
It wasn't until 1910 that in Paris a, man called Georges Claude came up with the idea for neon signs. His first effort was a sign for a barber shop in that city. How and when did they first come to the United States. Earle Anthony, the owner of an auto dealership in Los Angeles, apparently heard about neon signs and visited Paris. The result was two Packard neon signs which he purchased for $1,250. The year was 1923. The idea spread quickly because both businesses and the public took hold of this new concept in advertising. Traditional sign advertising was hit with the brilliant explosion of neon signs. These first signs were called "liquid fire" no doubt because of the bright red light they emitted seem to signify danger.
The first sign that came to Las Vegas was a sign advertising a place called the "Oasis Cafe House". Who realized then that the city would become one of the country's two premiere neon signage showcases? It was a notable event but few people, gave much thought other than that.
When discussing neon signage in America the Las Vegas Strip(or "The Strip" as it is often called) and New Yok City's Times Square are the logical starting points. It is easy to see how they earned their titles. Both receive millions of visitors each year who view neon displays that are almost blinding. Las Vegas may have an edge over Times Square because it receives many more visitors because of its casinos who provide the city's neon display. In comparison Times Square signs are subject to more frequent changes due to the fact that businesses in that city change often while Las Vegas has casinos that are the mainstay of the city's revenues and the casinos are always in business.
The Las Vegas Strip is home to a world famous iconic neon sign that was erected in 1959. The sign was the idea of Betty Willis, who worked for a local sign company. The sign contained the words "WELCOME TO Fabulous LAS VEGAS NEVADA". The sign was never copyrighted because Willis considered it her gift to the city. This sign is synonymous with the City of Las Vegas. The Willis sign is number one on the list of the world's 10 most impressive neon signages. Las Vegas is also home to the world's largest neon sign which carries the name Hilton and is owned by the Hilton Hotel Corporation. This sign was erected in 1996 and covers over 70,000 feet, The Hilton name is 164 feet wide and the letters are 28 feet high. At a price tag of approximately $9 billion it could easily be called the world's most expensive neon sign.
Times Square received its first neon sign in the mid-1920's. The density of illuminated signs in Times Square has reached the point where it's beginning to give the Las Vegas Strip a run for its money. This density is the result of the smaller size of Times Square compared to that of the Las Vegas Strip which runs for miles. In any case both of these locations are filled with thousands of signs.
Turning our attention from these two neon showcases there are other places in the Us that have notable neon signs. However, they are naturally not on the same level as the previously mentioned giants of neon signage. In Elk City, Oklahoma at the National Route 66 Museum proudly exhibits the giant iconic Route 66 neon sign. The city of Saginaw, Michigan claims it has the largest neon sign in the state an d the largest figural sign in the nation. Figural neon signs show humans and animals. This neon sign is 35 feet high and fifty feet long.
The list of the top 10 neon signs in this country has many neon signs that are nationally known. Many of them are long gone. They all once brightened a city street. Number one is Boston which had its Schrafftt's n sign which was a symbol of the company's candy and chocolate business. Second place on the list went to the "Vegas Vic" sign which was standing tall on the city's Fremont Strees from 1951 to about 1995 when it was retired.
In number three position is the Great Grain Belt Bear sign in Minneapolis which was used a great many years since it was installed in 1940, and is now up for sale. Fourth is the Coppertone Girl sign that was erected on Miami's Biscayne Boulevard to advertise the company's product, suntan lotion. It was a city landmark and was there from 1959 to the 1990's. What made the sign so noticeable was the puppy that was tugging on the little girl's bathing suit. Next on the list is the Skipping Girl sign from Abbotsford, Australia. She was called"Little Audrey" and she advertised the Nycander Company's product, sugar. She was gone in 1968 but due to the public's outrage at the loss of this landmark she was replaced by a replica in 1970. Portland, Oregon's "Made in Oregon" sign which advertised sugar was erected in 1941. It was changed over the years and remained in place when the company left the building in the 1950's.
The Westinghouse Company's sign in Pittsburgh to the number seven spot. It had been up since the early 1920's and was taken down in 1998. Taking the number eight place is the Magikist's Company of Chicago with its sign advertising carpets. The 41,400 pound lips on this sign were regarded as a city landmark However, all of the previous neon signs mentioned are gone. The number nine sign, the Reno Arch in Reno, Nevada which was built in 1927 and is still going strong. Last on the list is the Traveler's Insurance umbrella sign which can be found in Des Moines, Iowa. It was built in 1963 and still in operation.
No mention of neon signs would be complete without including a list of the world's 10 most impressive examples of neon signage. It should be of no surprise that number one on the list is the iconic WELCOME TO Fabulous LAS VEGAS, NEVADA neon signage. This is followed by the Times Square display. Third place goes to Hong Kong's 15 minute entire skyline light show, The next spot belongs to Osaka's Dotonbun signage which was the inspiration for the move, "The Blade Runner". Shanghai's Najinj Road takes position number five with Tokyo's Ginza and Shibuya occupying the number six place. The Vegas Boneyard (where old and iconic Las Vegas signs are restored and displayed) is next. This is followed by the signage showing Vintage Times Square neon signs from the 1920's to the 1950's.
As for the last two on the list the Caesar's Palace neon signage is in ninth place and Bankok's soi cowboy road completes the list. It is interesting to note at this point that at an earlier time London's world famous Piccadilly Circus would have most certainly come in near the top of this list. It received what many have called the first neon sign to come to Europe, a popular soft drink sign, which was replaced a new version in 2003. However, today all of the neon signs in Piccadilly Circus are on one building with the names all being large international corporations.
Many organizations have sprung up in all parts of this country. Their purpose to to collect, restore, and exhibit old classic neon and iconic neon signs. One of these is the Neon Museum of Philadelphia which opened in 1983 and shows neon signs from businesses. The Neon Museum in Las Vegas has iconic neon signs from closed casinos and businesses. It has more than 150 historic restored and non-restored neon signs. It is non-profit and was established in 1996. The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio was founded in 1999 and is asid to have over 2,800 signs of all types including neon. The Los Angeles Neon Museum opened its doors in 1981 with the intention of preserving old neon signs and other forms of neon art. In a related vein a gallery and workshop called Let There Be Light opened up in New York City in 1972 to train artists how to use neon.
After illuminated sign usage started in the United States other cities followed although at a much slower pace. Tokyo seems to be one of the first cities outside of the United States to get them. They were installed in a city park in 1926. Australia's first one appeared in a Melbourne suburb in 1930. Johannesburg, South Africa got its first one in 1935. India didn't get its first one until about 1940. Shanghai, China had to wait until 1982 to get its first one. Puskin Square in Moscow got its first sign in 1989. It was a popular soft drink sign. Stockholm. Sweden received its first one around 1936. On the other hand, Zurich Switzerland is reputed to have no neon signs.
Even so, their are some cities in the world that have banned the use of neon signs within their jurisdictions. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, trying to combat his country;s growing power problem, banned them and brightly-lit billboards. In January 2010 the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is the world's fourth largest city, banned them to try and stop its rising pollution problem. In the US in 1996 the town of Avon, Connecticut passed an ordinance banning the use of what they called exposed tubes, but neon signs encased in plastic were alright to use. The town's residents questioned the reasoning behind this ordinance. More recently a ban against the production and sale of illuminated tubes has gone into effect in Vermont and Massachusetts with other states looking to follow suit. Illuminated tubes not using mercury are permitted.
The city of Madrid, Spain, has an ordinance that prohibits all illuminated signs in the city's center so as to reduce contamination, conserve energy, and to make the city more aesthetically pleasant. This ordinance covers all neon used in pharmacies, theater marquees, business signs, and bars. Madrid had had illuminated signs for over 70 years up to this point.The city of Duluth, Georgia prohibits neon signs, and even though these signs are not prohibited in Mesa, Arizona the city's present day ordinances and policies weigh heavily against the survival of illuminated signs.
Starting in the 1960's there was a movement in the United States and Canada against illuminated signs. The city of Vancouver banned the use of these signs on what once were brilliantly-lit streets which then became dark passageways that left the city with a cold, heartless, look.
Since we are talking about neon signs it might be a good thought to get an idea about the neon sign industry. In 2008 neon sign company total revenues were about $2.9 billion. The sign industry, as a whole, had revenues of about $11 billion. At that time there were some 35,00 sign shops, including illuminated sign shops, in this country. These amounts have grown in thw succeeding years.
What is a commercial neon sign worth? That's really hard to say. However, when it comes to prices collectors might pay for them there are some figures available that show what they have paid for highly-prized illuminated signs. In fact, in June of 2006, at a memorabilia sale a Thunderbird Hotel illuminated sign sold for $26,000., while one that said Cloud 9 sold for $21,275., and the star part of a Holiday Inn sign went for $3,220. This shows what people are willing to pay for collectible neon signs. Prices for the commercial kind vary according to size and other factors.
Now it's time to compare neon signs with another form of lighting, LED. Before getting into the advantages and disadvantages of these two methods as they pertain to their commercial use.
Let's start by seeing what LED is and some information about it. The letters LED mean light emitting diodes. LED was first used as a replacement for incandescent indicators and for laboratory equipment displays. Later on it was used in television sets, watches, radios, indicators, and calculators. It isn't only until recently that LED prices have dropped allowing for sales to residential and commercial markets. Outdoor lights and Christmas lights are part of LED home lighting products. With the energy crisis in effect and some foreign countries looking for ways to reduce energy costs LED lighting companies can probably look forward to a profitable future when it comes to their products.
Now that we have a working knowledge of LED lighting is we can make a fairer comparison to neon signs as we mention the good points and the bad points of each. The basis for comparison is the use of the two lighting methods in advertising.
First, with regards to neon sign usage the advantages are as follows - they have a very long life when used properly, neon has a very high operating range and can run on on very high voltages using AC or DC current, they don't always require special power supplies, and these signs have a very low power consumption. A unique advantage, only enjoyed by neon signs, is that they can be made into any shape. This very important advantage, the ability to be bent into shape makes it ideal for use in advertising, wall clocks, and lighting for homes and businesses. Finally, it's inexpensive for small indicators and decorative lights.
Neon signs also have their disadvantages. They have low light output for input power, only produce a small range of the color spectrum, make only one color at a time, require a large surface area to be used for general lighting, and is expensive for use as signs and displays.
The advantages of using LED lights are these - the US Department of Energy expects the cost of producing LEDs to decline below that of compact fluorescent lamps called CELs in about 2013, high level of energy efficiency, more durable, extended product lifetime, and reduced heat load to the space(an added benefit from reduced energy usage).
The disadvantages of using LED lighting include the "warm" lighting generated by LEDs is more expensive than "cold" lighting, LEDs are more expensive than some more traditional lighting concepts, limited selection and options, color quality, and lack of product standardization.
The purpose of this article was to provide on the many topics related to neon signs that are not often known by the general public. What the future holds for each of these kinds of lighting is hard to predict. By just referring to the material presented the most reasonable answer might be that both of them will be in use for some time to come, but that could easily change due to improved designs and advances that either could develop, changes in the economy, or any one of a number of other factors. Both industries have very large financial resources and will do whatever it takes to obtain the greater share of the signage market.
In the final analysis there are two basic factors that will influence the sign industry with regard to profits and investment. Businesses want to employ whatever method that works the most successful for them. Consideration of future advancements in technology with regards to each form of lighting, prices, and many other factors is crucial plus examining the advantages and disadvantages of each. Another idea is which one draws a better response from the buying public. This could well be the deciding factor. Like all industries these two competitors will undoubtedly look to marketing research studies as a reliable guide to their decision making. Each of these two systems has only one goal in common and that is the same as any business or company and that is to try and make the right decisions that bring in the most money and that's the name of the game.
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