In the 1920s, commercial neon signs debuted in the United States, more than a decade after Georges Claude pioneered the illuminating technology in Paris.
But it wasn't until the late 1930s and into the 40s before neon's popularity caught on and began illuminating far more American streetscapes, according to researchers Dydia DeLyser and Paul Greenstein.
In 2013, the neon sleuths debunked a commonly accepted story that Earl C. Anthony installed America's first neon sign in 1923 at his Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. They did not reach a conclusion on a first U.S. neon sign but Anthony's Packard dealerships in San Francisco and Los Angeles were early adopters of neon technology in the 1920s.
Since then, neon signs have burned bright across the American landscape.
Arizona's neon-lit highways, including Route 66, lured travelers to restaurants, bars and motels. Tucson had its luminous Miracle Mile. The enduring message of the warm, welcoming light was "stop here" instead of motoring on to the next town and its roadside neon forest.
Neon lights up Phoenix motel row
Phoenix entrepreneurs developed motels with gaudy signs along Grand Avenue and Van Buren Street, including the Rose Bowl, Kon Tiki Hotel and Log Cabin Motel. Mesa’s neon lit the night with Buckhorn Baths signs and the diving lady at Starlite Motel.
El Trovatore Motel, which opened in 1939, has a 100-foot sign easily visible for travelers pulling into Kingman on Route 66. It's been restored and towers over an historic 20-room motel.
In recent years, Kingman has added other refurbished neon signs. The Old Trails Garage has a neon Packard sign. A Kingman Club sign now lights up Beale Street with its neon cocktail glasses.
Neon dims after Fifties flourish
Neon's brightest era was the 1950s. A decade later, tastes started to change and city sign codes reined in lavish neon displays.
On Route 66 in Holbrook, Flagstaff, Williams and Kingman neon is still lighting the way. For example the World Famous Sultana Bar and Canyon Club signs on eastbound Route 66 in Williams.
Even sun-baked neon signs that have gone dark often have a retro appeal. And there's always the chance that the best neon will be restored and once again illuminate the night.
In April 2019, Casa Grande opened its Neon Sign Park at 408 N. Sacaton St. with 14 restored signs.
Tucson has the Ignite Sign Art Museum that includes indoor and outdoor displays of vintage neon. It's located at 331 S. Olsen Ave. Check its website for details: https://www.ignitemuseum.com/
The Mesa Preservation Foundation spent more than $120,000 to restore the Starlite Motel's Diving Lady sign on East Main Street (US 60). Sign maker Paul Millet created the Diving Lady in 1960 and it stood for 50 years before a storm blew it over. Larry Graham, an apprentice of Millet, refurbished the 70-foot neon sign in 2013.
Mesa has a number of other neon beauties along Main Street, including Buckhorn Baths, Kiva Lodge and the Ham Bone bar.
I recommend neon geeks visit the Neon Museum of Las Vegas to see Sin City's vintage signs, many restored, and others in an outdoor boneyard. The American Sign Museum, in a Cincinnati warehouse, is also well worth a trip to the Queen City.
Tucson neon links: https://preservetucson.org/stories/neon-sign-project/
Miracle Mile link: http://bit.ly/2gcp5tn
Phoenix neon links: https://modernphoenix.net/neon/neonphoenix1.htm
See the Best Arizona Saloons: http://www.ontheroadarizona.com/bestbars.html