early form arc discharge lighting
History (1898 - today)
Neon lamp is a low pressure gas discharge lamp. It is a cold
cathodefluorescent lamp (CCFL).
The term "Neon Lamp" is used to describe a CCFL with
a tube diameter less than 15 millimeters. Due to the great popularity
and ubiquity of the neon lamp we consider it one of the 12 main
types of electric lamps in this History
of the Electric Lamp.
credits and sources are located at the bottom of each lighting
lumen per watt performance
*Neon performs more reliably in cold weather than hot cathode
*More reliable than LEDs for airport runway landing lights
Lumens per watt (red)
65 Lumens per watt (green)
of tube is a limitation
*Argon is not reliable in cold temperatures
*Diffused light (not good for any focused beam applications)
classic neon lamp is made of a glass tube containing a mixture
of neon (99.5%) and argon gas. There are two electrodes, one
positive, and the other negative. Voltage rises and an arc is
struck between. Argon gas is used in other fluorescents as well
because of a lower striking temperature. After the argon strikes
an arc the neon gas is warmed and current is able to flow through
the neon gas, ionizing more atoms as the current rises. A ballast
is necessary to limit the current since resistance will continue
to drop as current rises. See how it works in the video.
the term 'neon sign' to describe CCFLs of all colors. Other colors may
not use neon. They may use helium, xenon, or other nobel gases. Today
most other colors work by using mercury vapor. This type of lamp was
invented 3 years after the neon lamp (1901). First argon strikes the
arc, this heats up and vaporizes mercury stuck to the sides. The arc
then goes through mercury vapor, which creates UV light. The UV light
excites the colored phosphor and you get your desired colored light.
The mercury vapor lamp is one of the main 12 kinds of lamps and you
can read more about it here. We
recommend you continue reading below before moving on to mercury vapor
neon lamp works on AC or DC power. Interestingly when using the lamp
with DC, only one of the electrodes will glow since ions are formed
off of that electrode. AC power provides a nice uniform look with a
glow evenly distributed.
Numeric Indicators (Nixie Tubes)
Mechanical Scan Televisions
AC or DC indicator
Left: Neon signs
use the top 5 gases from the nobel inert gases
While in the
past a great variety of gases and phosphors were used to create signs
of various colors, today there are more effective phosphors which will
work simply with mercury/argon lamps. The mercury vapor is a more efficient
lamp and is desired over other gas fillings like xenon and helium. You
can still get lamps with a variety of nobel gases.
Clear red - neon
- Neon Gas with red phosphor
Neon + Argon + Hg
combination used for outdoor use in order to function more reliably
in cold weather
yellow- phosphor with Argon and Mercury Gas (Argon starts
the arc, warms up, then mercury gas ionizes, UV light is emitted)
UV activates the colored phosphor
and white - Helium gas in a clear tube, or you can use Hg
vapor with a white phosphor
Orange - Neon Gas with yellow phosphor
Yellow - can
also be created with helium and a yellow phosphor
Other Colors in a clear tube: Krypton - Whitish-Green
Xenon - bluish-white
Inventors and Developments
The neon lamp
was discovered in 1898, however its roots lie in the early experimental
cold cathode tubes created in the 1850s and later. Georges Claude contributed
the most to the neon lamp but all the engineers below deserve recognition.
Geissler - father of fluorescent lamps: developed
a glass tube with partial vacuum with two electrodes on each
end. He experimented with electric arcs through different types
of gasses. The "Geissler Tube" created an impressive
soft colored glow and is the basis for many kinds of lights
today such as the Mercury Vapor Lamp, Neon Lamp, Fluorescent
Lamp, Metal Halide Lamp, and Sodium Lamp
Ramsay & Morris W. Travers - discovered the neon
lamp at a time when neon was a very rare naturally created gas.
They moved on to other experiments and did not see the lamp
as remotely cost effective.
McFarlan Moore - first commercial installation of
the "Moore Tube": a predecessor to the fluorescent
lamp and neon lamp. He uses and arc through nitrogen and carbon
dioxide gas to make light.
Claude - around 1902 discovers how to create neon
gas during his work on liquefying air. Claude is aware of the
work of George McFarlan Moore in New Jersey, and he creates
a "Moore Tube" with neon gas. After further work he
displays the first modern neon lamp in 1910 a the Paris Motor
Show (Salon de l'Automobile et du Cycle). By 1915 Claude creates
his own unique and reliable neon lamp. he corners the market
until the 1930s. He later is condemned for being a fascist and
sympathizing with the Nazis.
McFarlan Moore - (General Electric) Moore
again makes his mark on lamp history by inventing the negative
glow neon lamp. He creates small bulbs with two electrodes,
neon gas glows immediately around the electrodes. This is used
as indicator lights on many devices until it is replaced by
the LED in the 1960s. It is still used in decorative Christmas
lights since the red light flickers and dances between electrodes
similar to a flame.
Photo: Schenectady Museum www.SchenectadyMuseum.org
by M.Whelan with additional research by Rick DeLair
Please contact us if you are a historian and wish to correct or improve
Rick Delair - lighting collector
The General Electric Story by the Hall of History
Teylers Museum. Nederlands
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