The History of Neon Signs: From Paris to Vegas

The History of Neon Signs: From Paris to Vegas

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The History of Neon Signs: From Paris to Vegas

Neon signs have become iconic symbols of the modern urban landscape, lighting up city streets and capturing the attention of passersby with their vibrant and captivating glow. The history of neon signs is a fascinating journey that takes us from the streets of Paris to the glitzy nightlife of Las Vegas. In this article, we will explore the evolution of neon signs, from their early beginnings to their current status as a popular form of advertising and art.

Early Discoveries and the Birth of Neon Lighting:

The history of neon sign can be traced back to the discovery of neon gas in the late 19th century. In 1898, British chemists William Ramsay and Morris Travers isolated neon, a colorless and odorless noble gas, for the first time. However, it was not until the early 20th century that neon’s potential for lighting applications was recognized.

Claude’s Noble Contribution:

The pivotal moment in the development of neon signs came with the work of French inventor Georges Claude. In 1910, Claude unveiled the first neon lamp at the Paris Motor Show. The lamp, composed of a sealed glass tube filled with neon gas, emitted a bright, colorful light when an electrical current passed through it. Claude’s invention marked the birth of neon lighting and sparked immediate interest in its commercial potential.

The Dawn of Neon Signs:

By 1912, Claude had patented his neon tube, and neon signs began to appear in Paris. The first commercial neon sign was used by a barber in 1912 to advertise “Palais Coiffeur” (Palace Hairdresser). These early neon signs were not as complex or colorful as the ones we see today, but they quickly gained popularity for their eye-catching qualities.

Neon in the United States:

Neon lighting made its way to the United States shortly after its introduction in France. In 1923, a Los Angeles-based Packard car dealership became the first business in the U.S. to display a neon sign, spelling out “Packard” in brilliant red letters. The success of this sign set off a neon craze, and neon signs became a symbol of the booming Roaring Twenties.

The Golden Age of Neon Signs:

The 1920s and 1930s marked the golden age of neon signs. Cities across the United States, especially in New York and Chicago, were adorned with neon advertising signs for businesses of all types, from restaurants and theaters to hotels and department stores. Neon signs became synonymous with urban life and modernity, their bright colors and intricate designs adding to the electric energy of the cities.

Neon in Las Vegas:

When people think of neon signs, they often think of Las Vegas. The city’s love affair with neon began in the mid-20th century when the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign was erected in 1959. The sign, designed by Betty Willis, remains one of the most iconic neon signs in the world. It marked the entrance to the city and was a beacon for visitors seeking entertainment and excitement.

Las Vegas soon became a neon wonderland, with hotels and casinos competing to outshine each other with ever more elaborate and extravagant neon displays. The city’s neon signs helped establish its reputation as the entertainment capital of the world and contributed to the evolution of the “Las Vegas Strip” as a neon-lit playground for adults.

The Decline and Revival of Neon Signs:

In the latter half of the 20th century, neon signs faced competition from more energy-efficient and cost-effective lighting technologies, such as LEDs. Many neon signs were taken down or replaced with LED alternatives, leading to a decline in the use of neon. However, in recent years, there has been a revival of interest in neon signs, particularly for their artistic and nostalgic appeal. Neon art installations have gained popularity, and many businesses are rediscovering the charm of neon for their signage.


The history of neon signs is a captivating journey that began with a scientific discovery in a laboratory and evolved into a vibrant and iconic form of lighting and advertising. From the streets of Paris to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, neon signs have left an indelible mark on the modern urban landscape. Today, they continue to be celebrated not only for their commercial value but also as a form of artistic expression and a symbol of the past. Neon signs have truly come full circle, from their early days of novelty and innovation to their enduring legacy in the world of design and advertising.

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