When you think of a diner there are probably a number of images that come to mind. Hamburgers, milkshakes, the jukebox, brightly colored booths, and neon signs. It’s hard to imagine a classic diner from the 1950s without the welcoming glow of neon on the building.

French chemist George Claude built upon the earlier technology of the Geissler tube to produce neon signs. He first introduced his signs to the United States in 1923 when a Los Angeles car dealership purchased two signs for $1,250 each, a fortune at the time. It didn’t take long for neon signs to become a very popular form of outdoor advertising. The bright colors were visible even during the daytime and people were transfixed by the spectacle of light.

The use of neon in diners reached its height during the 1950s. As increasing numbers of Americans took to the road for both commuting and pleasure, bright neon signs were a way of attracting the attention of cars passing by. But by the early 1960s the use of neon started to decline drastically as cheaper alternatives were developed and many city ordinances started to limit its usage. Despite this, neon signs are still a beacon for modern diners.

Gunther Toody's neon sign

Gunther Toody’s neon sign