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The Black Horse Sign Lights the Sky

The brewery’s most prominent marketing initiative was to erect an immense illuminated sign on the roof of its St. Maurice Street plant. On July 25, 1930, crowds gathered to watch a giant horse silhouette light the Montréal skyline. Produced by Claude Neon General Advertising, the sign was 26.5 metres tall and 55 metres wide. National Breweries described it as the largest illuminated sign of its kind in the world.

Beyond their enormous size, the appeal of signs like this one is that they stand out against the sky. At night, when darkness obscures their surroundings, the luminous ads create an atmosphere.

Georges Claude: Inventor of the Neon Sign

Georges Claude (1870-1960, Paris) was an engineer and inventor. In 1902, he developed an industrial process for liquefying air. Continuing his scientific research, he perfected the first neon tube lighting in 1910. The red-orange glow emitted by neon gas is poorly suited for indoor lighting, but Claude astutely recognized that this particularity made neon tubing perfect for outdoor advertising. He patented the process and then, in December 1910, showcased it with two 12-foot-tall neon tubes that welcomed visitors to the Paris Motor Show. To commercialize his invention he founded the Claude Néon company. He developed a wide range of colours using different gases and tube coatings, and hired the best glass workers to produce a variety of shapes. Despite the popularity of neon signs in Europe, it was not until 1923 that they appeared in the United States, spelling out the word “Packard” in the show windows of a Los Angeles car dealership. These signs caused a sensation and neon became all the rage.