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
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.
|Magic Bubble Party Supply, Greenville, Texas
|Chickasha, Oklahoma, is a treasure trove of vintage neon. This sign, though defunct, is still a beauty.
|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)
|McKinney, Texas and a space age design.