In his upcoming book ‘Neon Road Trip,’ photographer John Barnes captures a luminous part of advertising history.
For two-and-a-half years, photographer John Barnes crisscrossed the nation in an RV, all in an attempt to capture as many neon signs as possible on his digital camera. During his multi-year road trip, he traveled through 38 states and took more than 35,000 photographs documenting this important piece of vintage Americana. He was then faced with the arduous task of culling down his digital album to about 500 shots, but only a portion of those images would make it into his soon-to-release book.
Called Neon Road Trip, the comprehensive book is awash in neon-bright reds, greens, yellows and blues. The collection of photographs serves as a time machine transporting readers back to the mid-20th century when neon signage illuminated the highways and byways across America. In 1898, two British chemists by the names of Sir William Ramsay and Morris William Travers were credited for discovering the four gases that would eventually be used to create neon signs: neon, krypton, xenon and argon. However, it would be French inventor and engineer Georges Claude who would be the first person to take their discovery a step further and create the first neon lamp, which he presented to the public at the Paris Motor Show in 1910 and received a U.S. patent in 1915. The technology spread across the United States, where businesses, from the 1920s to the 1960s, touted signs made with the “liquid fire.”
Neon lost its luster later in the century, as cities banned it for being overly gaudy, people moved to the suburbs, and cheaper, plastic signage gained popularity. But, in recent years, neon has experienced a renaissance, with vintage lovers restoring old signs and turning their collections into museums that can be enjoyed by all.