JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #97
The fabulously over-usage of light-polluting electricity in advertising finds its beginning 220 years ago with the work of a modest, family-friendly French country priest. The image to the left is the first example of writing via electricity—basically, the basis for the earliest electric signs, more than 110 years before Edison’s (et alia ) electric incandescent bulb, and about twenty years before the presumptive “first” electrical experiments of Sir Humphrey Davy )on the first arc/carbon filament electrical light in 1809). They were the product of the electrical mind of Jean-Antoine Nollet (1700-1770), a peasant boy who was educated for the priesthood (becoming Abbe), whose extensive curiosity soon led him to physics and then to electricity—he was well educated and taught at numerous prestigious schools, admitted to the Academy of Sciences as a member in 1742, finally winding up in 1740 tutoring the dauphin at Versailles.. He published widely, was the first person to experiment with the Leyden jar in
France, and made wide contributions in the conduction of electricity through different media. (He also had numerous public disagreements, some of which stood with Benjamin Franklin, whose theories Nollet referred to as “les pretenetions de l’ecole de Philadelphie”. The image was published in Leçons de physique expérimentale, in Paris by Durand, 1783-84.
The, um, adventurous PT Barnum contracted the first electric bulb writing (utilizing the Edison invention) in Manhattan in 1892 to envious attention, resulting in less than 15 years with the Great White Way. The world’s largest electric bulb writing was on the Eiffel Tower, with Andre Citroen agreeing to light the outline of the tower if he could put his name on the rest of it. I’m not sure how this was seen as a good idea, but the sides of the tower were used for this purposes until somebody wised up and put an end to it all in 1937
But as white and as bright as the light bulb was in advertising, it was completely overwhelmed by the invention of the bold, brassy (and with a high potential “trashy” factor) neon sign, which was first used in the United States by Earle Anthony’s Packard dealership in Los Angeles in 1924.
(Mr. Anthony paid $24,000 1924 dollars for the two “Packard” signs, which in today’s dollars, employing the kindest inflation factor in the comparative CPI, would be about $3,000,000. Mr. Anthony could afford it, and the signs were a sensation.