Neon Signs and American Culture
Sometimes an object, because of it uniqueness or charm, takes on a life of its own and becomes intertwined with something bigger. It begins to represent more than just itself, but also that which it has helped to build. One area where this is extremely apparent is in the relationship with the iconic neon sign and the larger American culture.
Even though neon’s discovery and implementation into the world of signage was first accomplished by the French, it is undeniable that it has become a marker of the American culture. When someone decides to advertise their services with neon, or even display it personally in their home, they are engaging with an aesthetic tradition that has been a part of the American culture for the better part of a century.
The Perfect Match
Perhaps one of the reasons that the neon sign became such a fixture of American society has to do with the circumstances of its arrival to the states. It was at the start of the roaring twenties when it seems the culture by large was ready for a brighter and livelier way of life that warmly welcomed the new mode of display that many at the time referred to as “liquid fire.”
In 1923, Earle C. Anthony bought America’s first neon sign for the Packard car dealership in California. Anthony was both a philanthropist and a businessman at the forefront of automobiles, gas service stations, radio stations, and television networks. It only seems appropriate that a man that helped to establish such mainstays of the American experience was also the one to fist advertise with the extremely effective medium of custom neon signs.
From there, neon and the magic that existed within its artfully curved glass tubes continued to grow in use and value to the American way of life. It started and continued in the realm of advertisement of goods and services, which connected to the main idea of the American culture: that of course being the free market.
Making money wasn’t the only thing that neon had in common with the American mindset, though. America never had fancied itself as a quiet or subtle people, and even at its start, neon seemed to be ready for the bold, sonorous lifestyle that the American public lived. The dazzling light and its warm optimistic glow seemed to be right in step with the lively nation.
Neon as an American Classic
It didn’t take long for neon signs to become commonplace in America’s big cities and small towns alike. And even though neon is still going strong in service to big and small businesses today, it has also become a beloved classic in the hearts of Americans.
Neon evokes feelings of nostalgia for many, and is used to achieve a vintage feel for businesses and individuals. For this reason and for the wow factor that it still provides successfully to this day, neon has become synonymous with the fun and excitement of Las Vegas, which is seen as an American jewel to the nation itself and the rest of the world.
In the almost one hundred years that neon has been in the American culture, it has also found itself right at home in another one of America’s hallmarks: its music. From country to hip-hop, musicians have found something inspiring in the glowing designs that neon signs provide as they call their listeners to visualize them through all kinds of diverse lyrics.
Part of that does have to do with the tradition of neon that is connected with good times had at local bars, which speaks even more to how neon has helped to shape American culture. Just like English and Irish pubs have their trademark stone and wooden designs that speak to their ancient history and makes them iconic in their own culture, the neon bar sign is no doubt a tenant feature in the now classic American pub. Neon has long been and will continue to be something that Americans can lift their glasses to with pride.
Neon and America Moving Forward
Neon is not only an important part of America’s past culture, nor is it only about its capitalistic enterprises. More recently, neon has been seen in the outworking of perhaps the most important part of the American spirit: the artistic and personal expression of America’s individuals.
Something that has been in the DNA of America from the beginning is the sense of independence that her individuals have, as well as the use of that individuality to make a better life for the whole. Custom neon signs have started to appear in people’s homes in ways that make visible the diverse and unique spirit of the nation, one person at a time.
Neon is a colorful, spirited medium that people in the past and present have latched onto as a way to communicate who they are. In doing so, they have continued a story of the American culture that is just as bright, vibrant, and colorful as the light within a classic neon sign.