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Familiar Glow: Roadside Neon Signs from the Library of Congress

Neon Department of Utilities sign, Tuscumbia, Alabama. Photo by Carol Highsmith.
Neon Department of Utilities sign, Tuscumbia, Alabama. Photo by Carol Highsmith.

On long road trips today, any glow a passenger spots from the backseat of a car is just as likely to come from the tablets and seatback televisions in other vehicles as the clichéd, mass-produced signs lining endless rest stops. But not so long ago, especially along famous roadways such as Route 66, the road was lit up with ribbons of neon and flashing signs. Previously seen as signals of modernity and the Jazz Age, neon signs started steadily declining in popularity in the '60s, seen as carnivalesque, corny and symbols of visual clutter. Roadside attractions, Vegas casinos, and Holiday Inns, which used count massive neon signs as a trademark, all started to ditch the tubular signage in favor of more modern and streamlined ad banners. The medium has become a collectible niche concern, frequently the subject of preservation battles and celebrated inside studios and galleries, but its prevalence in downtowns and on roadsides has long faded out. Consider this gallery of Library of Congress photos, some of existing signs, but many long gone, a throwback to when these simple signs provided both beacon and entertainment for travelers.


Capturing New York's Fading Neon Heritage [Curbed New York]