In­ven­tive Ge­nius: Colour­ful World of Neon

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Front Page - GE­ORGES CLAUDE

GE­ORGES Claude (1870-1960), a French en­gi­neer, in­vented neon signage.

That lit up the world of street ad­ver­tis­ing.

His mo­ment of in­ge­nu­ity came from his work on the in­dus­trial liq­ue­fac­tion of air.

Known as the “Edi­son of France”, in 1896, Claude learned of the ex­plo­sion risk for bot­tled acety­lene, which was used at the time for light­ing. Acety­lene is ex­plo­sive when stored un­der pres­sure. Claude showed that acety­lene dis­solved well in ace­tone, equiv­a­lent to stor­ing it un­der 25 at­mo­spheres of pres­sure, re­duced the risk in han­dling the gas.

In 1902 Claude de­vised what is now known as the Claude sys­tem for liq­ue­fy­ing air. The sys­tem en­abled the pro­duc­tion of in­dus­trial quan­ti­ties of liq­uid ni­tro­gen, oxy­gen, and ar­gon; Claude’s ap­proach com­peted suc­cess­fully with the ear­lier sys­tem of Carl von Linde.

In­spired by Geissler tubes and by Daniel McFar­lan Moore’s in­ven­tion of a ni­tro­gen-based light (the “Moore tube”), Claude de­vel­oped neon tube light­ing to ex­ploit the neon that was pro­duced as a by-prod­uct of his air liq­ue­fac­tion busi­ness.

These were all “glow dis­charge” tubes that gen­er­ate light when an elec­tric cur­rent is passed through the rar­efied gas within the tube. Claude’s first pub­lic demon­stra­tion of a large neon light was at the Paris Mo­tor Show in 1910.

Claude’s first patent fil­ing for his tech­nolo­gies in France was in March 1910. Claude him­self wrote in 1913 that, in ad­di­tion to a source of neon gas, there were two prin­ci­pal in­ven­tions that made neon light­ing prac­ti­ca­ble. First were his meth­ods for pu­ri­fy­ing the neon (or other in­ert gases such as ar­gon).

Claude de­vel­oped tech­niques for pu­ri­fy­ing the in­ert gases within a com­pletely sealed glass tube, which dis­tin­guished neon tube light­ing from the Moore tubes; the lat­ter had a de­vice for re­plen­ish­ing the ni­tro­gen or car­bon diox­ide gases within the tube. The sec­ond in­ven­tion was ul­ti­mately cru­cial for the de­vel­op­ment of the Claude light­ing busi­ness; it was a de­sign for min­imis­ing the degra­da­tion (by “sput­ter­ing”) of the elec­trodes that trans­fer elec­tric cur­rent from the ex­ter­nal power sup­ply to the glow­ing gases within the sign.

The terms “neon light” and “neon sign” are now of­ten ap­plied to elec­tri­cal light­ing in­cor­po­rat­ing sealed glass tubes filled with ar­gon, mer­cury vapour, or other gases in­stead of neon. In 1915 a US patent was is­sued to Claude cov­er­ing the de­sign of the elec­trodes for neon lights; this patent be­came the strong­est ba­sis for the mo­nop­oly held in the US by his com­pany, Claude Neon Lights, through the early 1930s.

In 1923, Ge­orges Claude and his French com­pany Claude Neon, in­tro­duced neon gas signs to the United States, by sell­ing two to a Packard car deal­er­ship in Los An­ge­les.

Earle C. An­thony pur­chased the two signs read­ing “Packard” for $1,250 apiece. Neon light­ing quickly be­came a pop­u­lar fix­ture in out­door ad­ver­tis­ing. Vis­i­ble even in day­light, peo­ple would stop and stare at the first neon signs for hours, dubbed “liq­uid fire.”

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