[Fran]’s LEDs, Nixies, and VFDs.


With a love of blinky and glowey things, [Fran] has collected a lot of electronic display devices over the years. Now she’s doing a few teardowns and tutorials on some of her (and our) favorite parts: LEDs and VFD and Nixie tubes

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that someone with hardware from a Saturn V flight computer also has a whole lot of vintage components, but we’re just surprised at how complete [Fran]’s collection is. She has one of the very first commercial LEDs ever made. It’s a very tiny red LED made by Monsanto (yes, that company) packaged in a very odd lead-and-cup package.

Also in her LED collection is a strange Western Electric part that’s green, but not the green you expect from an LED. This LED is more of an emerald color – not this color, but more like the green you get with a CMYK process. It would be really cool to see one of these put in a package with red, green, and blue LED, and could have some interesting applications considering the color space of an RGB LED.

Apart from her LEDs, [Fran] also has a huge collection of VFD and Nixie tubes. Despite the beliefs of eBay sellers, these two technologies are not the same: VFDs are true vacuum tubes with a phosphorescent coating and work something like a CRT turned inside out. Nixies, on the other hand, are filled with a gas (usually neon) that turns to plasma when current flows through one of the digits. [Fran] has a ton of VFDs and Nixies – mostly military surplus – and sent a few over to [Dave Jones] for him to fool around with.

It’s all very cool stuff and a great lead-in to what we hear [Fran] will be looking at next: electroluminescent displays found in the Apollo Guidance Computer.

Videos below.

21 thoughts on “[Fran]’s LEDs, Nixies, and VFDs.

  1. “When you’re feeling down, and life seems pointless, happiness is a ten-pound bag of seven-segment LEDs.”

    Oh gosh I love it and also makes me think how weird it might seem for a non-LED lover ah ah! Will love LED forever!

  2. I just always love Fran’s videos she quite eccentric, It makes for a fun watch.
    Maybe HaD can make a showcase where videos are grouped by specific authors and a more focused topic beyond just using the search, maybe through the Categories tab with a bit more refinement using your existing tag structure or like a revolving showcase of featured videos based on a random topic or whatever they feel like highlighting for the week, like 3D printering but more diverse.

  3. When I woke up this morning I didn’t think I’ll end up watching a 35 minutes long video about LEDs. I mean whats there to them, they are just LEDs. Boy was I wrong, I watched it and now I want more. Great video!

  4. Great collection and thevids too!
    Those old Monsanto LEDs in cup were copied by many manufacturers in Europe during 1970s.
    I still have two LQ100 LEDs in my frequency counter. They have a tiny red point.
    Specification of LQ100: Iv=0,8 mcd @ 20mA, λ=660nm, failure rate = 4×10^-6/h, Imax= 50 mA

      1. In the Microsoft operating system you have this handy tool called Character Map
        If you have a start menu go to Start>programs>Accessories>System Tools\Character Map (if not :( %windir%\system32\charmap.exe)

        you can choose a font type (typically arial or times new roman)
        and look up alt codes as a poster below was saying you hold Alt then using the number pad type in the numbers that follow λ however is a unicode character as he was saying so the easier way is in Character Map select the character press the Select button and then finally hit the Copy button (you can have a long string of characters selected to copy btw)
        So what I do is to select all the characters I use often copy them and go to a websites bookmark and add # then my characters to the end and save the bookmark, that way they are always close by for easy copying.

        For example with hackaday my normal bookmark would be http://www.hackaday.com/ now it becomes http://www.hackaday.com/#λμπω and its a tag so it doesn’t affect the site but its there in the address bar.

        This also works with sites that have lazy language filters as you can substitute in letters that look the same but are technically unicode characters instead of ascii ѕосіеајруυЅОСІЕАНТ socieajpyuSOCIEAHT to something looking for ascii character matching (the first set are the unicode ones Btw)

        I once made a small script to automatically do this at a site that blocked other companies names..well long post short I forgot to turn it off, typed a long paper, hit spell check every word showed up as misspelled and since this crappy software also printed all the squiggly lines i had to do quite a few search and replaces to fix it.

      2. Personally I have been copying not often used, but sometimes useful characters as” λ”, to a text file on my desktop. Much more readily available than the Windows character maps. However that text file gets lost in the other useful text files I keep on the desktop, so I need to see if I can change the icon somehow. The more I include in that file I’m going to make an effort to group them in some manner. Here is the contents of that file to date with “λ ” add moments ago with very little effort;

        Ω ¢ ® ℗ ™ ∞ † ↔ ≤ ≥ ≥ ♠ ♥ ♣ ♦ ☻ ▲ ▼ ▲ ►

        ◄ ♪ ♫ { (℧ mho) μ λ
        ⅛ ⅜ ⅝ ⅞ ⅓

  5. As I recall when the first single LEDs were made, red in color, Monsanto put together a division to make the ones described above. Eventually the process was, well spread all over the place. As for the EL displays, special case there…….

  6. I wonder how many people realize, that LED’s were just not very bright back then? They were very dim to start with. The very first blue LED’s were very, very dim too.
    I used to have tons of the same stuff she has. Much over the years has been lost. Odd though, I never threw ANYthing out, but just lost tons of old stuff like that. No idea where it went either.
    I wanted those old pin LED’s to make a dot matrix display. Would have been outrageously expensive, but I still tried, couldn’t find enough of them though.
    They used to use those little “bubble” displays in the early LED watches. Very hard to find now, or used to be.
    I love to spend some time swapping old hardware with her. Kinda disappointed she didn’t trot out some old DL-1416’s or the old HP serial alpha-numeric displays.

  7. I sold a bunch of those Monsanto LEDs on Ebay a while back :-)

    Kept a few, can’t recall where they went though,
    Also have some of those HDSP2202 “bubble” displays and also some calculator ones, these are neat.
    Very handy indeed though a few of mine had bad pixels possibly from being “seconds”.

    Apparently they made a green bubble calculator which is as rare as hen’s teeth, based on the same LED
    technology as the Monsanto displays but made into a 7 segment display.

    VFDs are still used today in car displays, although the front panel has a phosphorescent coating
    to convert the green/blue light into other colours.

  8. What a trip down memory lane!
    As a kid I took lots of stuff apart and remember desoldering many of these LED types and had a (much smaller) collection of “cool ones” that I liked and wanted to build into something else. Sometimes that happened, sometimes not.
    I love HAD for stuff like this!

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