Neon signs: they light up the night of the American landscape with their cool, synthetic glow. At once wholesome and seedy, retro and modern, neon has been a common marketing technique for businesses over the past 100 years. And now HubBub has joined the ranks of the eating and drinking establishments that say what's up to the world with bright, bold neon signs.
A few weeks ago, we had this bad boy installed in our Radnor shop, suspended from the ceiling with strong chains. Check us out! the sign says to passersby. It is distinctive and quirky and thoroughly HubBub. You may be wondering: where does one get a custom neon sign made, anyway? And how did neon become a popular signage material in the first place?
To answer the first question: our owner Drew has wanted to do something with neon for a long time. To make his vision a reality, he reached out to Hillary Krain, one of the owners of Port Richmond-based H&G Sign Company. H&G made the large branded wraps that covered the windows of the Radnor store while it was under construction, and he thought maybe they'd be able to help with this project. As is now evident, Hillary and her team of craftspeople took the idea and ran with it, coming up with this gorgeous sign that looks like it was teleported from a lunch counter in the year 2050. We really love it.
After majoring in advertising and working in the "rat race" as she calls it in NYC, Hillary Krain began working for her dad's billboard company (also located in Philly), Krain Outdoor Advertising. After many requests from clients for smaller signage, Hillary and her siblings Larry and Evelyn founded H&G Signs. In concert with their team of designers, fabricators and skilled technicians, they've produced great-looking custom signs for companies ranging from Honeygrow to the Settlement Music School. Hillary says that working on HubBub's sign was fun for them. "Drew just has so many ideas running around his head," she says. "I wish I could take credit for the sign, but I really just helped bring the pieces together."
Now, for a brief history lesson on the origins of neon signs: The first documented neon sign went on display at the Paris Motor Show in 1910. The sign was made by a Frenchman with a wonderfully Frenchie name: Georges Claude. His company, Air Liquide, was one of the first to produce industrial amounts of neon, and Claude received two patents (which he still holds): one for a technique that removes impurities from the gas in a sealed sign, and another for the design of the electrodes on the inside of the sign. In the decade following neon's debut, the glowing signs became prevalent in the Parisian skyline, and in 1923, a car dealership in Los Angeles purchased the first two neon signs in the U.S. After the Second World War, research towards the advent of the color television created dozens of new colors for neon, and as you've probably seen in photos and movies, neon signs popped up everywhere.
What neon actually is and how the signs work is pretty technical. The easiest way to say it is that 4 or 5 foot glass tubes are bent into shapes, sometimes coated with different chemicals, and finally filled with a purified gas (neon, or more often argon with a drop of mercury in it). When the gas is electrified its vapors emit an ultraviolet light. The different colors are sometimes due to the type of gas, the kind of phosphorescent coating on the tube, or on cheaper models, the color of the glass tube. For more than you probably ever wanted to know about the science of neon, take a look at this extremely lengthy and in depth Wikipedia article.
One final note: two super rad, and very different songs relevant to the topic of neon: "Neon Bible" by Arcade Fire, and "6669 (I Don't Know If You Know)" by Neon Indian. The first song is dark and hushed, minimal and somber. The second song is ethereal, if a bit unhinged, fun but a little tripped out. Both songs cast deep shadows in their own strange glows.
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Top "neon" image by Timo Kuusela
Neon stripes image by Pierre Rennes