New Life For Nixies

Novel digital clocks get their glamour from the Nixie tube, the mother of electronic numerical displays

8 min read
Photo of a Nixie tube.
Photo: Konrad Metzner/Dodocus

They were tagged with the unfortunate name NIX-1, for Numeric Indicator Experimental-1. But by the time they hit the streets, in 1954, they had been nicknamed Nixie, and they arrived just in time to become the warm, reassuring face of electronics’ heady adolescence. They went on to literally light up the New York Stock Exchange, cruise under the sea aboard Navy submarines, and wink by the hundreds at NASA mission controllers guiding rockets to the moon.

A Nixie is basically a set of diodes in a glass tube containing a little neon gas. The cathodes are numerals, lined up one behind the other. Voltage applied to one ionizes the surrounding neon, and the numeral seems to light up.

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