Neon Signs Fading in Chicago

Chicago preservationists are urging owners of the last of the city's neon signs to keep them intact.
October 8, 2008, 5am PDT | Judy Chang
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"'When there's a threat of a landmark sign coming down, there's often a grass-roots movement to save it,' says Tod Swormstedt, founder of Cincinnati's American Sign Museum. 'When people think of retro, they think of the '50s. That means neon.'

The first neon sign was sold to a Paris barber in 1912. By the 1920s, they were considered the most modern and stylish way to advertise. Light is produced when an electric current is sent through gas in a glass tube.

Neon fell out of favor in the 1960s and 1970s when urban renewal was a priority and zoning regulations often banned new neon signs. When businesses were sold or remodeled, their neon signs often were thrown away.

Neon signs are more fragile, harder to repair and use more electricity than LEDs, says Bob Clauss of Parvin-Clauss Sign Company Inc. in Carol Stream, a Chicago suburb. Those factors often prompt businesses with old neon signs to replace them, he says. 'Customers are looking for a good value, and they want to do what's right for the environment,' Clauss says."

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Published on Monday, October 6, 2008 in USA Today
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