Because of its low power consumption, long life, and ability to work on mains power, small neon lights are most commonly utilized as visual indicators in electronic equipment and appliances. Neon lamps come in several sizes from 1/4 inch (6 mm) diameter tubes that fit into 3/8 inch (9 mm) sockets to 1-inch (25 mm) tubes that go into 1-1/4-inch (31 mm) sockets.
Neon lamps employ an inert gas at very high pressure inside a glass tube. When electricity is applied to the electrodes, the gas becomes excited and emits light. The frequency of the emitted light depends on the gauge of wire used to connect the electrodes together. If the electrodes are not connected properly, the gas will be unable to emit light. The result is a dead neon lamp. Neons are available with either two or four legs. Four-legged models are preferable because they are more stable when placed on a flat surface. Two-legged neons can be mounted on a wall using mounting screws, but they are less stable than their four-legged counterparts.
Neons are widely used as indicator lights for appliances and devices that we use every day. For example, neon signs have been used for advertising since the 1950s. Today, they remain popular because they make effective advertisements that are easy to read.
They are mostly used to create spectacular, colorful luminous advertising signage known as neon signs, which were popular from the 1920s to the 1960s and again in the 1980s. The word can also apply to the small neon glow lamp, which was invented roughly seven years after neon tube illumination in 1917. Today, these lamps are used mainly for decorative purposes.
Neon lights were originally designed to be seen from a distance on busy streets, so they needed to be bright enough to catch attention. They also needed to be easy to maintain since there were no electrical connections inside them; all they had was a filament coated with a phosphor that gave off blue light when struck by an electric current.
The first neon signs were pylon signs hung over sidewalks at shopping centers. They were made out of thin metal tubing wrapped in transparent plastic film that was painted black to hide any rust from previous use. The words "Neon" and the appropriate price tags were painted on the front of the sign. These signs worked on the same principle as the modern fluorescent light: Electricity passes through a thin wire causing it to fluoresce white or blue depending on the voltage applied. But instead of being enclosed in a glass tube, these early signs were exposed to the elements and required regular maintenance. It took about 50 cycles of on/off power to degrade the plastic insulation and cause it to break down completely.
Neon lighting is made up of brilliantly lit, electrified glass tubes or bulbs containing rarefied neon or other gases. A high voltage supplied to the electrodes of several thousand volts ionizes the gas in the tube, allowing it to generate colorful light. The gas in the tube determines the hue of the light. Most commonly, these are glass tubes filled with a mixture of gases including helium and oxygen.
The first practical neon lamp was invented by American inventor Thomas Edison. He called his version "electric lights." Today, "neon" is used as a generic term for any type of electric light based on an inert gas. Neon signs are still made using similar technology as police sirens and other types of signage. However, modern neon lights can also be found in everything from keychains to wall decorations.
In addition to its use in ordinary household lights, neon is also employed in a variety of special effects devices, most notably in theatrical lighting. These include accent lights, backlight units, boom boxes, flashlights, spotlights and tube banners.
Other than using helium, oxygen is the only other element that produces visible light when exposed to electricity. So, all other elements used in neon lights should be non-toxic and relatively easy to source.