Old neon signs have always been an iconic part of American culture. They have been around since the 1920s, and for many people, they represent a nostalgic time when life was simpler and full of excitement. These vintage signs were once a common sight on the bustling streets of every major city in America, and just like the changing times and trends, many of them have disappeared from the urban landscapes of today. There is, however, no denying the charm, personality, and character that these old neon signs possess.
The history of neon signs dates back to 1902 when French chemist Georges Claude discovered a way of producing light through electrified, gaseous neon. It was not until the 1920s that advertising companies began to realize the potential of neon lights as a way to attract the public’s attention in an age before television and internet advertising.
The early neon signs were simple, consisting of just a single word or slogan, and they were primarily used to promote bars, saloons, and motels. One of the most iconic early neon signs was the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign erected in 1959, which still welcomes millions of tourists each year.
As the neon technology improved, advertisers began to experiment with more intricate designs and color combinations, and by the 1930s, downtowns across America were a blaze of neon lights. In the post-war era, neon signs became a symbol of progress and prosperity, and they were used to promote everything from car dealerships to department stores, bowling alleys to gas stations.
However, by the 1960s, signs started to lose their popularity. The emergence of television advertising and changes in urban planning meant that neon signs began to fall out of favor among advertisers and city officials. Many of them were destroyed or dismantled, and the ones that remained were often neglected and left to rust away.
Today, the few remaining old neon signs that remain are highly sought-after relics of a bygone era. Some of them have been preserved and displayed in museums, while others have been lovingly restored and put back into use by enthusiasts who appreciate their historical significance.
One such enthusiast, David Zaitz, has made it his life’s work to preserve old neon signs. Zaitz started collecting neon signs in the 1980s, and his collection has since grown to more than 200 signs, including a 40-foot-tall cowboy from the Big Ten Motel in Billings, Montana. Zaitz’s collection has been on display at the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, California, and his work has helped showcase the beauty and importance of these signs.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in old neon signs, and many cities have started to recognize their historical and cultural significance. Some cities, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, have even implemented programs to preserve and restore their old neon signs, ensuring that these iconic symbols of Americana will continue to be appreciated for generations to come.
In conclusion, the history of old neon signs is a fascinating journey through time. From their origins as simple slogans to their heyday in the mid-20th century, these signs have captured the public’s imagination and become a symbol of a bygone era. While many have disappeared over the years, there is still something magical about the ones that remain, and those who collect and preserve them ensure that their legacy will live on for many years to come.