History Of Neon Lights And How They Work Today

Posted by mike leigh on September 24th, 2019

Way back in the late 1800’s, Geissler tubes were used to show different colors and this was achieved by placing gas inside the tubes but they could not be used for every-day lighting. After that came Moore tubes using nitrogen and these could be used more widely. Finally, neon lighting was created in 1910 and is still used today. Neon lights are seen in many places and there are some cities that rarely go dark because of them. They are fewer signs made now than there were in the middle of the last century but as a result there is a great interest in the ones that are left. Some new ones are made, but antique ones are prized.

The lights are made as a result of glass being bent into the shape required. The custom neon signs start of as 5-foot hollow tubes measuring 8cm – 15cm in diameter that are cut to the size and shape required. Different burners are needed as each bend will require a different amount of glass to be heated. To obtain the neon effect, there is a thin layer of phosphorescent powder coating attached to the interior of the tube. A gas mixture is put in and ionized then the cathodes at the ends have a high voltage applied to them.

The generic name for these lamps is neon but they are not always filled with just neon gas. Other gases are needed for certain colors as neon only manages to produce around 30% of the colors used. They are red, orange and various shades of pink. To get more of the colors, argon and mercury are used and as a result there will be green, yellow, violet, blue, paler pinks and white. After the tube is ionized, the tube is filled with mercury vapor and the ultraviolet light appears.

If the neon sign light is more than 20 years old it will be lead glass, and they will have been easy to manipulate in the fire. Recently, health and safety regulations alongside environment concerns meant that other ways of manufacture are being investigated. The ideal lamp will last for a long time and have many colors. This is needed mainly to keep the price down as production is very labor intensive. Many can last for around 50 years and the main reason for failure tends to be when the neon gas is absorbed into the glass.

These lights are still popular for a number of reasons and are becoming more and more popular for domestic use. They are perfect for cove lighting where there is not a lot of space required. As the tubes can be bent into any shape, they can lighten up a room without taking up a lot of space. As they are known for their longevity they can be put into place and then left.

So, the next time you look at a neon light, you can wonder how long ago it was made and also for how much longer it will brighten up its surroundings.

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mike leigh

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mike leigh
Joined: August 9th, 2018
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