At Roadhouse Relics, we’re constantly getting asked, “how do neon signs work?”. People want to know more about the “behind the scenes” stuff and what really goes into making these signs.
Well for starters, neon is an odorless and colorless inert gas that gives off a reddish glow when placed in a vacuum tube. However, when mixed with other gases, neon can emit a variety of other colors as well, which is why we can find a collection of bright and vibrant neon signs just about anywhere.
But how does it glow? When neon is placed in a vacuum tube with electrodes and voltage is discharged through the glass, the kinetic energy that is created moves up and down the tube and produces the glow that you see. All you need is that plug.
It was French astronomer, Jean Pickard, who first took note of neon’s potential in 1675 when he noticed a glow from a mercury barometer tube. At that time, electricity had not yet been invented, so it wasn’t until almost the 1900s, after years of scientists experimenting with various gases and electricity, that William Ramsey discovered what neon could really do.
Since the first sign was created in 1902, neon artists like myself have been working to take this particular art form to bigger and greater heights. It is simply my opinion that to really appreciate something, we need to take a step back and be willing to understand how it works first.