Retrotechtacular: The Aerolux Light Corporation

The humble incandescent lightbulb is an invention just about anyone born in the 20th Century is more than familiar with. But it’s not the be all and end all of lighting technology – there are neon lights, compact fluorescent bulbs, and even LEDs are finally being adopted for interior lighting. But with the endless march forward, there are vintage throwbacks to the past – how many hipster cafes have you been to lately with great big industrial-looking filament bulbs hanging from the ceiling?

Even when switched off, they have a striking appearance.

However, that’s not all history has to give us. These gas discharge bulbs from yesteryear are absolute works of art.

The bulbs contain delicate floral sculptures in metal, coated with phosphor, and the bulbs are filled with neon or argon gas. Applying mains voltage to the electrodes inside the bulb causes the phospor to fluoresce, creating a glowing flower that is hauntingly beautiful.

These bulbs were manufactured by the Aerolux Light Company, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Once upon a time, they could be had for as little as 20 cents a bulb – nowadays you’re likely to pay over $50 on eBay or Etsy. The bulbs work by the glow discharge effect, not at all dissimilar to garden variety neon lamps.

While it’s not easy, it is possible to make your own vacuum tubes. Maybe it’s time to order some phospor powder and a tank of neon and get to work? Be sure to document your attempt on

Thanks to [Itay Ramot] for the tip!



36 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: The Aerolux Light Corporation

  1. Actually the Neon Art ‘crowd’ does do this. Some use Alu as an electrode. Make it like a regular single electrode piece but all the work is in the electrode. Pull the Phosphors from unbent Neon phosphor coated tubes.

    1. They are. I saw some in a garden center a couple of years ago, but thought little more than ‘huh, that’s different’ at the time. Those were dimly pink-orange, though, and just shoved in with a bunch of other style-over-substance filament lamps.

      A quick search for ‘flower lightbulb neon vintage’ throws up a few of them on Amazon and eBay, also tagged with ‘Aerolux’ occasionally.

  2. There were (are?) other manufacturers of neon glow lamps with various figures inside, but Aerolux seems to be one of the most artistic with three dimensional designs and multiple colors. Anyone could stamp a flat electrode shaped like a peace sign and stick it in a neon filled bulb. They also made custom bases for some of the bulbs, such as the Popeye bulb and boat shaped lamp.

      1. I dunno, though neon indicators are often 110V, with a resistor in series for 220V countries. If it comes down to it, the smallest little transformer should be good enough to drive it, or even a step-up one from low voltage. They must use almost no power.

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