The Suitcase Lady


September 6, 2016, 7:44 am

I’ve had a life long fascination with neon signs. With their eye-popping colors and dazzling light, neon signs are a stellar art form.

A recent museum show I attended featured restored neon signs from America’s Mother Road, Route 66, which was also a motherlode of neon signage. When Interstates doomed Route 66, the neon signs succumbed as well. Happily, a number of them have been rejuvenated and are once more advertising their businesses or delighting museum goers.

Neon was not discovered by accident as were many other elements. In 1898, two London scientists, William Ramsey and Morris Travers, had a hunch that another gas was between helium and argon on the periodic table. After many failed experiments, they hypothesized the mystery gas might be hidden in another substance. They froze argon, slowly evaporated it, collected the gas that came off it and zapped it with high voltage. Viola! Neon was discovered.

Only trace elements of neon exist in Earth’s crust and atmosphere. But the universe is full of it: neon is in the stars and is the fifth most abundant chemical element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, oxygen and carbon.

Neon is colorless, but neon signs were invented in 1902 when Georges Claude, a French engineer, applied electricity to neon gas in a sealed glass tube and watched it glow red. He introduced his first sign in 1910 at the Paris Motor Show. Neon advertising signs made their American debut at a Los Angeles Packard dealership in 1923.

Not all neon signs are neon. Neon only produces a red color when zapped. Argon gas gives off an intense blue color. These two base colors can be mixed into 80 different colors by coating glass tubes with fluorescent powders. For example, blue glowing argon gas in a yellow tube gives off a green light.

Ironically, neon, a true stellar gas, masks the stars in the night sky with its “light pollution”.


I designed this sign which has graced the top of our refrigerators for over 35 years.


A. Brocato

One of our favorite places in New Orleans


Rt 66

A restored New Mexico Route 66 sign



My favorite Route 66 sign…..the dog’s legs light up alternately producing the illusion that he is running rapidly. It advertises Scot’s Dog Grooming.


The following photos were taken in Chicago by Peter Little, my talented photographer cousin.











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