Halloween night didn’t always have kids running from door-to-door with a glow stick necklace. Fourth of July celebrations didn’t always have the excitement of wearing your very own glow stick bracelet to match the fireworks in the sky above. Before the phone and the glow stick – people just had to use lighters during those 80s hair metal power ballads.
In fact, before the 90s, nobody had thought to use the glow stick as a promotional item.
This is the story of the glow stick and how one company brought its light to the promotional products industry.
Warning – Science Ahead: Glow Stick Edition
The construction of a glow stick is actually pretty straightforward – a plastic tube is filled with a chemical mixture, while a glass tube that’s filled with another chemical mixture is placed inside and sealed (the chemical in question is Bis[2,4,5-trichloro-6-(pentyloxycarbonyl)phenyl]oxalate, and no you can’t make me type that again). When the glow stick is snapped, the two chemicals are allowed to mix, creating light!
This happens because of chemiluminescence, which means the release of light as the result of a chemical reaction. The biggest force behind these reactions is an excited molecule, which is higher energy than the others around it. When this molecule relaxes to a lower energy level (think of a crash after a sugar rush), it either produces its own light, or it transfers its energy to another molecule to light.
The chemicals in glow sticks use this second process, and in their case, they transfer their energy to fluorescent dye to create the bright, fluorescent colors we’re used to seeing. When the light starts to fade and eventually goes out completely, this means that the molecules have transferred all their energy.
Greg French, who has been with Brighter Promotions for 21 years, is pretty passionate about lighting up the promotional products industry – and sharing the story of how the glow stick got its start.
Greg told me that the glow stick was first invented for military and emergency services to use – and when the government approached the chemists credited with the invention of the glow stick, they had a tall order: it couldn’t have a battery, it couldn’t create heat, and it couldn’t be flammable. Sounds pretty impossible, right?
One of the best things about science is doing the impossible – and they did just that: they created the glow stick.
So, why did the government want them?
Greg told me a little bit about that. “The reason the government wanted this was because of the highly flammable fuel that they used between their tankers and aircraft carriers,” he said. “When these things refuel, they run fuel lines between one and the other – and you have to be able to see at night to do this. However, anything that could create a spark would light it up and create a catastrophe.”
So, they were made for the government to help with refueling – but then people noticed something else about them.
When they would drop them in the water to help light the fuel lines, they noticed that fish were attracted to the lights (like how angler fish hunt in the deeper parts of the ocean!). This got the fishing industry really interested. They started using glowsticks to attract fish for fishing, or tie to the bottom of deep nets.
“Then, of course, divers started using them because, at the time, there was no underwater light source that was affordable for the average person. So, the uses just kept growing and growing. But there was no novelty,” Greg told me, then he dove into how Brighter Promotions got its start.
Based in Chicago, the founder Mike Schrimmer, worked as a trader for the Chicago Stock Exchange. On a whim, he took the day off and decided to go to a military trade show that happened to be in town. He saw the glow sticks and he bought some. He took them home, emptied the contents into a piece of his brother’s tubing he used for his fish tanks – and the first glow necklace was born.
He quickly realized he had something special on his hands. He took them downtown to sell and they were a massive hit. He contacted the company he had purchased the glow sticks from initially with his idea. “Well, we’re doing decently with the government – but if you’d like to run with it, go for it.” they said.
And the rest is history!
Brighter Promotions has also had their hands in a few other innovations – like LEDs used in novelty products. From there, the company has expanded and grown to be known as one of the top suppliers for fun, light-up products. And while COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in some plans, they’re charging ahead at full-speed. Greg and the rest of the Brighter Promotions team are always looking ahead to the next big thing. They pride themselves on their innovation and providing new products to light up people’s lives that no one has ever seen before.
We’re certainly looking forward to more bright ideas from the Masters of Glow themselves in the future. In the meantime, check out Brighter Promotions (SAGE #50681) for all your novelty needs just in time for the holiday season. With lots of rush options, they’ve got you covered from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day (and beyond)!