Any business worth its salt has a way of telling us where they are, even at night.
By advertising themselves through signs that light up the sky - the older
establishments using bright neon to do so - not only can businesses beckon
customers from near and far, their signs can become attractions in their own
right.

While Las Vegas may be the neon capital of the world, all sorts of places - from
mom and pop roadside inns to little coffee shops, from gas stations to movie
houses - make use of this kind of illuminated advertising. The business owners
along the Red River Valley are no different. Especially downtowns - like the
Theater marquees in Denton, or the shoe store sign in Fort Worth - keep
customers interested by letting their signs speak for themselves.

How did neon come about? Well, we've got a  Frenchman to thank. In 1902,
Georges Claude, a scientist and an inventor, created the first neon lamp,
building upon earlier work of 17th century chemists who discovered that neon
gas could conduct electric discharges in color. Claude soon found out that while
the gas only produced red light, chemicals could  be combined to create at least
150 different hues. Claude patented neon advertising and sold his creations to
American businessmen. The first neon signs were bought by Packard
dealerships - and other businesses soon followed. The 1920 through the 1940s
looked almost like neon Nirvana across the American landscape, and the bright
signs became so prevalent in this country that many people consider them -
even today - to be an American art form.

The 1950s space age edged out the old metal neon signs. Plastic, more durable
and easier to maintain, became all the rage. And lest you think that plastic signs
couldn't compete with the beauty of neon, just look at the photo of a cafe off of
US 380 in McKinney, Texas. In order to lure customers, small businesses had to
keep putting eye catching signs out front, and unlike the bland rectangular
monstrosities that dot the landscape today, plastic signs from the '50s through
the '70s looked as great as the old neons.

If the business of America is business, then these old signs are just proof in the
pudding - they helped to create American culture while doing their owners some
profitable good. And keep your eyes open for these great signs, because soon -
thanks to stripmalls and the make-the-fastest-buck-you-can mentality of today -
they will become ghosts of a past era.
Snyder, Oklahoma
Lucky Lady Oil Company, Fort Worth
McKinney, Texas, cafe off of US 380. A fine example of
space age plastic signage!
Magic Bubble Party Supply, Greenville, Texas
Chickasha, Oklahoma, is a treasure trove of vintage
neon. This sign, though defunct, is still a beauty.
Camp Bowie Road motel sign, Fort Worth
Signs of the Times: Red River Advertising
Neon lives along Maple Avenue (old US 77) in Dallas
No more resting on Route 66 (Narcissa, OK)
This Irving, Texas Drug Store has a soda fountain.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com