Brief history of luminous advertising signs: from the bulb to LED screens

A marketing study ensures that we receive around 3,000 advertising impacts daily. And among them, luminous advertising signs are one of the most effective. It is not surprising, if we consider that they are part of the urban landscape in our neighborhoods and cities and, ultimately, of our day to day. A reality that has been accompanying us for decades. However, do you know about the history of advertising luminous signs?

Although LED displays are one of the most common advertising strategies, outdoor advertising displays have undergone a great transformation since their early days. And we assure you that they are pretty recent. If you want to know more about how luminous advertising signs have evolved, we invite you to join us for this little tour. Pay attention!

When are the first luminous signs?

OK: it is not easy to imagine great metropolises such as Tokyo, New York or Las Vegas without their luminous LED displays flashing on the facades of skyscrapers and displaying a whirlwind of colors before passersby. Their presence has even eclipsed other architectural claims in the area, as is the case in Piccadilly Circus, in London.

However, the truth is that luminous advertising is relatively recent and is closely linked to the birth of electric lighting. A key date is 1880, the year in which the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison patented the first incandescent light bulb, paving the way for another much less known pioneer: George Claude (1870-1960), the Parisian chemist, physicist and inventor who invented the neon sign in 1902. The patent would arrive eight years later.

Thus, France had the honor of being the first country in the world that exhibited luminous advertising sings (specifically, the establishment that began this trend was the barbershop owned by a friend of Claude’s). The engineer would exploit his patent until 1932, the date on which it was concluded.

It would be necessary to wait until the happy twenties for this invention to land in the United States. The Packard car company was the first American company to embrace this trend. They did it in a big way, paying $ 24,000 for two giant advertising screens purchased from Claude, the French Edison.

However, cities would not be the only entity that embraced brand-new luminous signs: roads ended up succumbing to this fashion too. Popularly renamed liquid fire, advertisers fell in love with neon signs, since luminous advertising signs could be seen in full sunlight and, of course, at night, without overlooking their undeniable visual appeal. Hence, neon signs became a national symbol of American inventiveness and creativity.

One of the great creatives of the moment was the American advertising executive and lighting designer Douglas Leigh (1907-1999), who had the idea of reinforcing the luminous signs with animations, sounds and smells, creating a multisensory experience. One of the main achievements was the creation of an advertising poster of a well-known brand of cigarettes that expelled smoke rings. Curious, right?

Corporeal letters would also gain ground, as well as other more imaginative initiatives. Without going any further, the famous luminous advertisement for Tío Pepe, installed in Madrid, dates from 1935 (as you can see, Spain was not excluded from this fever).

Luminous signs after World War II

After the Second World War, the fifties witnessed the boost of neon signs in the United States, a country that did not notice the effects of the war on its land. New York’s Egani Institute contributed decisively to this, as funds were allocated to revive commercial activity and promote the manufacture of luminous advertising signs. Thus, American restaurants and cinemas were covered with neon lights in one of the greatest phenomena of pop culture. The imagination of designers and publicists enlightened new forms and typographical fonts that, in addition, were a symbol of modernity. The reasons for its popularity were clear: despite commonly having a simple design and signage, its impact among passersby was enormous.

What very few knew is that the success of neon had seen its best days. Only a decade later, in the 1960s, this type of sign was barely in demand, although the old signs were still shining on the facades of buildings.

But the equator of the twentieth century would bring another change, since incandescent bulbs – also present in many luminous signs – were replaced by fluorescent tubes, whose luminosity was greater. These light sources had been invented in 1927 by the German Edmund Germer (1901-1987), the impeller of high-pressure fluorescent lamps, which provide better lighting giving off less heat. Germer took advantage of the contribution made between 1856 and 1857 by the French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891) and his father, who had inquired about the phenomena of fluorescent lighting, covering the electric tubes with luminescent materials.

The sixties: the appearance of the first LED advertising display

Another turning point in the history of luminous advertising signs is found in the 1960s. It was then that acrylic glass settled as a common material in the field of outdoor advertising, since it distributed light evenly. Gradually, the fluorescent tubes would gain in efficiency as their size decreased. The process continued until the appearance of light-emitting diodes or light-emitting diodes (or LEDs). The first LED sign in the visible spectrum was invented in 1962 by American engineer Nick Holonyak (1928), an employee at General Electric.

Over the years, light advertising has become increasingly efficient from the point of view of energy consumption. For this reason, among others, fluorescent lights have been substituted by LED sign boards and banners, LED billboards and outdoor LED dsiplays that currently dot the streets and avenues of cities on five continents. However, the use of LED lighting has also forced to increase the quality standards in the materials with which LED panels are manufactured, in order to achieve a correct light scattering.

Get your LED sign at the best price

Thus ends this little tour through the history of luminous advertising signs. In any case, if you have not yet discovered all its advantages firsthand, we encourage you to learn more about how digital advertising can help you. Get in touch with Visual Led without obligation, by phone, by email or through our form. Our team, with presence in 2003 in about thirty countries, will help you clarify your doubts and advise you honestly and professionally so that your business stands out with our products. In addition, you can also use our LED display price calculator to obtain an approximate budget for the most suitable sign or display for your store or establishment. We are waiting for you!

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