I'm a collector of figural neon light bulbs...actually I'm fond of the 'floral' bulbs. Beginning in the
1930s, a company called Aerolux was formed to manufacture a new and unique light bulb. The light bulbs contained different
figures inside of them that glowed different colors when electrified. The bulbs were known as figural neon glow lights. Some
earlier neon figural bulbs simply emitted an orange colored glow. The orange glow bulbs contain neon gas, the pink bulbs
having a neon-argon mix and the purple or violet glow is characteristic of argon gas. The metal stems and leaves were coated
with phosphor...a luminescent substance, that when excited by the UV emitted...given off by the ionized gas, caused the
phosphor or barium to glow green.
The two major companies producing these bulbs were Aerolux Light Corporation and Birdseye Electric Company, each trademark is usually found on the bottom of the screw base. These companies were located in New York. Aerolux made hundreds of different bulbs with various subjects...ranging from advertising slogans, animals, comic characters, flowers to religious symbols. For example, an early bulb depicting the Popeye character had a tugboat shaped lamp base.
For a couple of years, a few figural neon glow lights were made by General Electric Vapor Lamp Company. This GE subsidiary was formed in 1919 after the purchase of Cooper-Hewitt (maker of industrial mercury vapor lighting). These were some of the first figural neon glow lights in the US. This offshoot company produced so few figural glow lights...thus making them quite scarce today.
Early Aerolux bulbs were marketed as Aerolux Kayatt Glow Lights. Philip Kayatt was a pioneer in the glow lamp field and in 1935 patented the first novelty filament neon glow light. The actual glass was made in various shapes...globe, hurricane, tube and Edison base. The figural neon glow bulbs were manufactured with substantial filaments, and with low wattage of electricity consumed (3-5 watts), even the earliest bulbs still function.
Aerolux continued up until the 1970s when the company was bought out by Duro-Lite. The Duro-Lite 'smile face' neon glow light was one of the last true American bulbs produced. During the early 1970s, the IMS Corporation also sold these bulbs and they bought their bulbs from Aerolux. IMS often sold Aerolux bulbs (under the IMS name) with decorative lamp bases. The bulbs are often missing from these lamps or have been replaced with incorrect bulbs. During the 1970s, Luxram, Inc. also sold Aerolux bulbs under the Luxram name.
Improper handling of figural glow light bulbs can create the metalwork inside to vibrate and cause some of the coating to come off. A very fine flaking dust coats the glass as a result. Also, it is important to store the bulbs upright, to avoid metal flakes from adhering to the glass over time. Figural light bulbs are still made today, but are imported now and of rather poor quality.