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The Disputed First Fluorescent Light Sign | Covershield

One of the most iconic and beloved parts of city skylines at night is the fluorescent light, which has taken many different shapes, forms, materials and processes over the years, most famously in the form of the neon light.

Whilst most famous in the 1920s-1960s and again in the 1980s, in recent years the neon light has started to grow again in popularity due to both nostalgia and the popularity of RGB lighting and the wide spectrum of coloured lighting that this allows.

Neon’s unique glowing properties were first discovered in 1898 by Morris W. Travers and William Ramsey, when a Geissler tube filled with neon glowed a brilliant red, with Mr Travers nothing that the sight of the “blaze of crimson light” was one that told a story he would not soon forget.

Whilst Geissler tubes would quickly be superseded, they would inspire the evolutions of many different technologies that became ubiquitous in society, such as neon tubes and vacuum tubes.

One of the people allegedly inspired by the discovery was the optical physicist Perley Nutting, who was a disputed part of the history of neon light signage.

A story claims that whilst working for the National Bureau of Standards, he was invited to showcase some of his research into electrical discharges through different gases at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St Louis World’s Fair.

Allegedly he displayed a neon sign that displayed the word “neon”, which would make it the first light of its kind in history.

However, this claim is somewhat disputed, as for a long time little evidence could be found of the sign or even Mr Nutting’s appearance at the event.

Eventually, the answer was found in an interview with Dr William Meggers by Rexmond Cochrane that revealed that the display was two specially blown tubes, one reading helium and the other NBS, which were neon lights that were designed to showcase this research.

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