A Frenchman named Georges Claude made the first neon sign around 1910, and in the early 1920s the technology was brought to America. Old signs are usually made with neon or argon gas in a vacuum tube. The gas is activated by electricity, causing the lights to glow. Today it's possible to make dozens of colors by combining different gases. Krypton, xenon and helium are just a few that are used.
When neon signs were first introduced, people were fascinated by their beautiful colors.Plastic signs became popular in the 1960s, so neon went out of style. In recent years, neon has been used to create wonderful works of art, and the lights are in demand again.
While natural glass has always been around, no one really knows when manmade glass was first created. One story, according to the Roman historian Pliny, gives credit to some Phoenician sailors who were traveling in the Middle East around 5000 B.C.
After the men landed on a beach, they prepared to cook a meal, placing their cooking pot on some blocks of nitrate that they had on board the ship as cargo. The intense heat of the flames caused the blocks to melt and mix with the sand, forming an opaque liquid. When it cooled, the sailors discovered that it had hardened into glass.
However, artifacts that were discovered dating at around 2500 B.C. appear to be the first evidence of true glass. They were found in Mesopotamia, an area in southwest Asia that includes Iraq. At the start, glass was used to make beads and architectural decoration, and it wasn't until 1,000 years later that the first glass containers were produced.
Creating glass objects was a slow process for thousands of years, and because it was so difficult to make them, only wealthy people could manage to buy glass. However, with the discovery of glass blowing around 50 B.C., dozens of objects could be mass-produced in a much shorter time, and common people could afford to own glass.
Until recent times, glass was used mostly for producing functional items. In the late 1940s, however, some American craftsmen began using it as an art material. With the development of new technologies, more artists became interested in creating with glass. As we have learned, Dale Chihuly is one of the most successful glass artists.
Visit the Corning Glass Museum to learn more about glass.
© 2003 Marilyn J. Brackney, All Rights Reserved
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