Zeon Sign Collection donated to the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections

In this year of the 90th Anniversary of Route 66, the Zeon Sign Collection stands out as a unique resource for researchers. Zeon Signs (officially, Electrical Products of New Mexico) is New Mexico’s oldest and largest full-service sign company. Zeon was established in Albuquerque in 1939. The company shut down in 1941 with the diversion of sign materials to the war effort and re-opened in 1949. Zeon continues to operate on 5th Street in Albuquerque as of 2016, designing, manufacturing, and installing signs of all types but specializing in neon signs. Their neon signs are noteworthy for their quality as well as their place in American popular culture. Most of the neon signs they produced were designed to attract customers to businesses along the U.S. Highway Route 66 corridor. 

Four partners currently own the company, two of whom are the sons of original founders and technicians. The sign company adopted its colloquial name, Zeon, from a now-defunct corporation of the 1950’s that tested components of neon signs as a kind of underwriters’ lab. If a business conformed to Zeon Corporation’s specifications, the proprietary name could be used as a hallmark of quality. Many businesses lining mid-twentieth century Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the surrounding Southwest had their roadside signs designed, constructed, and installed by Zeon Signs.

The collection contains documentation for signs produced by Zeon Sign Company. Each project consists of a job cost envelope annotated with expenses for materials, labor, overhead, total actual cost, selling price, and profit or loss.

The majority of Zeon’s work was located in Albuquerque. However, their contracts spread throughout New Mexico and into southwestern Colorado, Arizona, Texas and even a few locations in California.

The potential use of this collection crosses many humanities disciplines including art history, community planning, history of the built environment and local history. Restoration of still extant signs along Route 66 will be easier with access to the original drawings. Additionally the Zeon company records could be used by local communities seeking to recall a vibrant part of their mid-20th century history and identity. View the collection inventory on the Rocky Mountain Online Archive.

The University of New Mexico University Libraries is proposing to digitize the design drawings and selected other records that document the contribution of Zeon Signs to the vitality and allure of Route 66. After digitization the images will be made available online through the New Mexico Digital Collections website, a state-wide project hosted by the University Libraries. Donations to this important effort will support creating the publicly available on-line collection for students and scholars in a variety of fields as well as any member of the public interested in this topic. View selected images from the collection.

Give online or contact Maggie Schold, Director of Development at maggie.schold@unmfund.org, 505.277.5632

See also:

Childs, Mark C. and Babcock, Ellen D. The Zeon Files: Art and Design of Historic Route 66 Signs. University of New Mexico Press, 2016.

The Zeon Files Sheds Neon Light by Carolyn Gonzales