SIGNS OF OUR PAST vintage neon sign photographs by Edward M. Fielding

An exhibit of classic vintage signs from our past by Edward M. Fielding

Neon is dying. Businesses are switching to cheaper, more energy-efficient LED bulbs and municipal planning boards are zoning out neon to decrease the number of unsightly displays - one photographer races against progress to save these old signs for our collective memory.

Of course it wasn't always this way. Back in 1902, just a few years after neon gas was discovered by British chemists, French engineer Georges Claude sent it coursing through electrified glass tubes, creating neon lighting. The new type of light quickly ousted incandescent bulbs, the former favorite of sign-makers.

In the 1930s, neon was everywhere in America. In the beginning of the decade, shops saw the glowing lights as a novelty, though an expensive one, to keep them competitive. They were installed for big corporate chain retailers like car dealers. But by the end of the decade, big businesses had found cheaper alternatives.

Livingston, Montana

Montana’s first Mint was started in the historic railroad town of Livingston by, fittingly, two train conductors. Just after prohibition, the two Burlington Northern conductors retired to launch the bar and were issued the state’s first liquor license. The foundation of the bar is literally steel train rails. According to the current owner, Merlin Moss, The Mint in Livingston was a hangout for droves of railroad workers who would cash their paychecks at the bar.

“They say the bar used to have more money than the banks,” Moss said.

The Mint, Livingston, Montana by Edward M. Fielding

The Livingston Mint was known for its poker games, having as many as 15 tables going at one time, with some of the games lasting days. The bar recently under went an extensive restoration to its 1930s interior, but poker players can still find a game in The Mint’s back room.

The bar enjoys a little Hollywood flash, having been featured in the 1987 movie "Amazing Grace and Chuck" and the 1992 film "A River Runs Through It".

Facts about Neon Signs

Neon (Ne) is a colorless, non-metallic, very inert gas with an atomic number of ten. This member of the noble gas classification glows reddish orange in a vacuum tube.

Neon gets its name from the Greek word “neos,” meaning “new.”

The gas was first isolated in 1898 by chemists William Ramsay and Morris Travers, who were busily discovering noble gases left and right by evaporating liquefied air, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Neon lights are most commonly associated with storefront signs, and use neon gas in hollow glass tubes to produce their famous luminous glow. An electric current is run through the neongas (mixed with a small percentage of argon), which produces a reddish-orange light.

Many of the signs that we regard as neon signs are not true neon signs at all. This is because neon is only responsible for the bright reddish-orange signs that are so common.

The first neon sign demonstrated in a modern form in December 1910 by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show.

Livingston, Montana

Vintage Bar Sign Livingston, Montana by Edward M. Fielding

Old Vintage Bar Neon Sign Livingston Montana Metal Print by Edward M. Fielding

Black and White version of "Bar" by Edward M. Fielding

Livingston, Montana

The New State Theater was opened in 1935 as a single-screen movie house with 685 seats. By 1950, it was known as the State Theater.

Empire Theater, Livingston, Montana by Edward M. Fielding

It has been divided into two auditoriums and is now known as the Empire Twin Theater. It shows first-run films, and has a wonderful Streamline Moderne facade and marquee, with a vertical sign on top of the triangular marquee.

A later, rectangular-shaped sign, somewhat 1960’s or 1970’s-looking in appearance, has been added to the middle of the vertical with the word “Empire” inside.

Livingston, Montana

A while back Russel Chatham, the aworld-renowned painter and lithographer, author of over a hundred articles and half a dozen books, fishing guru, and owner of independent book publishing company, Clark City Press, opened the restaurant nearly a decade ago in order to have a good place to eat in Livingston. Chatham explains, “I was literally driven to create a fine restaurant in a place that’s never had one.”

Livingston Bar & Grill by Edward M. Fielding

It was popular with the Valley's Hollywood crowd but after the big recession attendance and art sales dwindles and Chatham packed up and moved back to California.

Livingston, Montana

As an old railroad town, Livingston has a rich history and the Murray Hotel, being situated right downtown, has been lucky enough to be a part of much of it. Originally known as the Elite Hotel in the early 1900’s, the hotel was later purchased by Josephine Kline who renamed it the Kline Hotel. She bought the adjacent building with money borrowed from James A. Murray and expanded the hotel. When Murray died his heirs used legal manipulations to gain possession of the hotel. Josephine Kline was evicted and the Murray Hotel got the name that it still has to this day.

Cafe - part of the Murray Hotel Vintage Sign by Edward M. Fielding

Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is well know for it's neon signs although many now lay in the "Boneyard" as they are replaced with video screens. Some like this old Holiday Motel have so far escaped the fate of so many that came before.

Holiday Motel Las Vegas by Edward M. Fielding

Providencetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Old New England is not known for flashy vintage signs but they do exist and survive here and there such as this example from very tip of Cape Cod with its bold letters, and boiled lobster.

Lobster Pot Neon Sign Provincetown by Edward M. Fielding

The famous Lobster Pot restaurant in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Quechee, Vermont

Rural Vermont is not the first place you'd pick to go vintage neon sign hunting but fine the right corner along the right roadway and you'll be surprise to fine an all night diner with a glow of neon.

Time to Eat by Edward M. Fielding

A vintage neon sign on an original diner in Quechee, Vermont reminds us that its time to eat. Tragically this sign was stolen recently and no longer graces what is now the Public House Diner.

All photographs by fine art photographer Edward M. Fielding who has been collection photographs of old neon signs from across America.

Created By
Edward Fielding


Created with images by Hitchster - "Neon"

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