99% Invisible: Tube Benders | KALW

99% Invisible: Tube Benders

May 20, 2016

On the May 20, 2016 edition of 99% Invisible.

The skyline of beautiful downtown Oakland, California, is defined by various towers by day, but at night there is one that shines far more brightly than the rest: the neon-illuminated Tribune Tower.

The distinctive 22-story tower features a sandy brick exterior and is topped with a pitched copper-coated mansard roof, but what sets it apart are its glowing red neon signs. Each side of the tower says “Tribune” in bright red letters, and has a neon-illuminated clock with neon hands. Neon this prominent and well-maintained stands out for its brightness, of course, but it also has become a rarity in the 21st century city.

Neon gas was discovered in 1898 by Scottish scientist Sir William Ramsay, who named it for the Greek neos (meaning new).

The use of neon in signage was pioneered by a Frenchman named Georges Claude in the early 1900s, starting in Paris. By the 1930s, there were 20,000 neon advertisements in Manhattan and Brooklyn, most of them from Claude Neon [...]