The once-ubiquitous form of lighting was novel when it first emerged in the early 1900s, though it has since come to represent decline.
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When French engineer Georges Claude premiered neon lights at the Paris Motor Show in 1910, they instantly became a symbol of excitement and modernity. Claude’s lights trapped and electrified neon gas inside glass tubes, producing an orange-red glow that lasted about 1,000 hours. After that, “neon lighting” became a catchall term referring to glass tubing containing any gas or chemical that glows when electrified. Today, genuine neon signs are still made by hand—there’s no way to mass-manufacture them—but a similar aesthetic can also be produced using LEDs.