Oh, Nixie tubes. Your time was so short. Your aesthetically close (but technologically distant) cousin, the vacuum tube, lives on in outrageously priced stereos, but you have become a footnote, your brief tenure as the ne plus ultra of electronic readouts so viciously overtaken by LEDs that you’re hardly remembered.
First made commercially available by the Burroughs Corporation (whose fortune enabled one William S to become history’s most inspired heroin addict), the tubes operate by creating a layer of plasma around number-shaped cathodes. It’s an illumination similar – but different – to that of a neon sign, with an aesthetic that brings to mind the Cold War. In fact, the affordability of these Nixie tube clock kits may owe a debt to the Soviet Union. They produced vast quantities of the tubes into the ’80s, dead stock being mined to tell time in the present.
Image: Jeff Keyzer on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.