March 19, 2015

And now a dip into 1945, when Georges Claude was put on trial.

Claude was one of France's great scientists - a man who been a star in the lab for 50 years - but now he was accused of supporting the Nazis, trying to reel in his fellow Frenchmen, and perhaps even helping the Germans develop bombs to attack the Allies.

Claude's defense in that trial sounded like that of so many others... he thought the Germans were going to win, so he cast his lot with them. 

But his motivations may have been a bit more complicated than that.

During the First World War, Claude had done what he could to help his fellow French, which meant arming them with chemical weapons, so they could fend off German advances.

But after World War I, he felt ignored, not respected by French authorities, not celebrated in the way he thought he should have been. The New York Times would later call him “bitter.”

When war came again, Claude embraced the Nazi’s vision. He began to give speeches about supporting causes greater than yourself, like Jesus or Joan of Arc. And he believed he too was sacrificing for his beliefs. He believed that he too was a hero.

After all, he had figured out how to help hospital patients by figuring out how to liquefy oxygen and had helped soldiers by helping them know where guns were firing from.

But the biggest invention of all - which earned him a fortune - was something that, at first, gave off an orangey-red glow, when it debuted in Paris: the neon light.

The new light spread incredibly quickly, changing the way cities look from Las Vegas to Chicago and London to Beijing.

Claude was always worried, though. Worried that people were infringing on his patent. Worried he wasn’t getting enough credit for creating neon lights. 

In the end, he got very little. He was arrested in eastern France and sentenced to life in prison. 

In 1950 - as he was closing in on 80 -  he was released on parole. By that time, all his honors had been taken from him. He was not allowed to resume his place in the scientific community.

But his stamp on the world? It couldn’t have been more visible.

innovation hub, neon lights, Georges Claude, historical innovation

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