Day-Glo: the brand

The compound word, “Day-Glo” —the name of the Cleveland-based manufacturer of fluorescent pigments—is one of those brand names that are almost too catchy for their own good. Easier to spell than “fluorescent,” Day-Glo could easily become the generic term used to describe any brand of fluorescent pigment.

Day-Glo®, however, was the company founded by Robert and Joseph Switzer, the brothers who in 1937 invented and patented this new, brighter kind of color.

Ad from 1960 issue of Modern Packaging (via: Wishbook’s Flickr Photostream)

Two panels of a brochure for Switzer Sunbonded Day-Glo, produced by the Switzer Brothers, ca. 1960 (See also: Multicolored Logotypes)

Day-Glo is a trade name for the fluorescent pigments developed in the 1930s by the Switzer Brothers. The unearthly quality of fluorescent pigments results from a chemical conversion of ultraviolet light into visible light within the pigment itself. It was first used in theater and then used in World War II; this brochure promotes its application in advertising and safety signaling.

Machine for Living Color, Museum of Modern Art, 2008

Day-Glo color chart from Grickily’s Flickr Photostream

In the past, it was never possible to photographically reproduce fluorescent colors, because the dyes used in photographic prints were not fluorescent. With the rise of digital photography, however, fluorescent colored objects can now be reproduced in photographs, so long as they’re viewed on RGB color monitors—which do have fluorescent phosphors.

Created in 1934 by the brothers Robert and Joseph Switzer, founders of the DayGlo Color Corporation, these pigments have influenced the public’s consciousness of color. Because of the additive effect in which radiation is absorbed and reemitted at longer wavelengths, daylight fluorescent pigments are extremely bright — in fact, brighter than white

Modern Paints Uncovered, Thomas Learner – 2008


Top row: two photographs by Jane Gavan taken inside the Cleveland Day-Glo factory; below: exterior of the Day-Glo factory (photo by Christopher Busta-Peck)

The US military spent $12 million on Day-Glo fabric during the Second World War, making the Switzer brothers rich beyond their dreams. Fluorescent safety materials were first used in the deserts of North Africa so that ground forces could signal to Allied dive bombers and avoid friendly fire… Training aircraft were painted Blaze Orange to avoid mid-air collisions.

After the war, the Day-Gloification of the world began in earnest. By the summer of 1951, Time noted that “by last week, adolescents were fluorescent from coast to coast, as Switzer’s ‘Day-Glo’ clothes became the newest fad”…

Subsequently, hippies, pop artists, and punks all staked a claim to Switzer colors. Fluorescent dust spewed out of the smokestacks of the company’s busy factory in Cleveland, turning the city Day-Glo. Paul Switzer remembered: “My father used to have many complaints from the residential neighborhood because, for example, all their laundry had been contaminated with fluorescent orange.” The dust was toxic—Day-Glo’s secret recipe used to contain formaldehyde, a carcinogenic ingredient that may have been a hangover from their work with embalmers. In the late 1970s, when Robert Switzer became a keen environmentalist, special filters were put on the factory chimneys to minimize pollutants.

Joseph Switzer, who never lost his penchant for showmanship, wore suits made of fluorescent satin and drove a Ford Thunderbird painted in Day-Glo.

Day-Glo Dreams, Christopher Turner, Cabinet Magazine, 2008

1969 “Blaze Orange” Day-Glo printing ink label

(More vintage Day-Glo labels, after the fold…)

1951 “Neon Red” Day-Glo lacquer label

1951 “Neon Red”Day-Glo rubber coating label

“Fire Orange” Day-Glo lacquer label

“Day Glo” water color undercoater label

“Fire Orange” Sunbonded Day-Glo speed dry label

1989 “Blaze Orange” Day-Glo label

(See also: the children’s book by Chris Barton: The Day-Glo Brothers)

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