About the Holiday
Brothers share a special bond built on mischief, inside jokes, shared experience, and love. If you have a brother—either by blood or friendship—spend some time with him, give him a call, or just text and say, “hi.”
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors
Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Tony Persiani
Before the Switzer brothers had their bright idea, the world was a much less colorful place. Bob Switzer, born in 1914, loved to work and saved his money for exciting plans. His younger brother Joe loved magic and had an inventive mind. When the family moved to Berkley, California, Joe developed a magic act that included “black art” in which an object that was painted half black and half white seemed to float and disappear in midair.
Joe loved this trick but thought it could be better. Meanwhile Bob planned to become a doctor. But during the summer before he began college, Bob had an accident that ended his plans. Because his injury effected his head, he had to recover in a darkened room. While Bob healed, Joe spent time in the basement with him studying the glow of fluorescence, hoping to use it in his magic show. Together the brothers built an ultraviolet lamp which they tested in their father’s pharmacy. When they shone it on a shelf full of bottles, a container of eyewash glowed yellow.
The brothers had an idea. They experimented with chemicals that could make paints glow in the dark. In regular light the paint looked normal, but under ultraviolet light it radiated attention-getting colors. That was great for Joe’s magic act, but Bob thought these paints could be used for other things too, such as store-window displays. Selling the paint could help pay for Bob’s medical bills too.
Bob and Joe searched through the university and other labs for other fluorescent materials. They then combined them with other ingredients in their mother’s mixing bowl to create glowing paints and even once—when the mixing bowl was not cleaned well enough—a very colorful cake!
Joe used these paints to major effect in one of his acts in which a dancing woman “lost her head” as Joe, unseen by the audience in the darkened theater, took off her headdress as she danced away. This trick brought Bob and Joe lots of customers for their original paints. But there was one problem: these colors only shone under ultraviolet light.
One day in 1935, however, one of Bob’s experiments resulted in a surprising innovation—a dye that glowed even in daylight. Bob didn’t know how exactly it had worked, so the brothers continued experimenting. Finally, they discovered the secret when an orange billboard they had created glowed as if it were on fire even in the daytime! The brothers then created reds, yellows, greens, and other colors that could do the same thing.
During World War II these glowing colors were used on fabric panels used to send signals from the ground to airplanes overhead, in lifeboats, on buoys, and on other safety products. After the war the colors continued to influence culture and are still part of our lives today.
Older kids with a penchant for science and history will love this biography. Chris Barton goes in-depth to reveal the Switzer brothers’ dreams and motivations that resulted in a most astounding discovery. Barton infuses the story with humor and interesting details that will fascinate curious minds.
Using a retro style, Tony Persiani sets this biography in its time while also giving the story a modern feel. Gray scale tones become dotted with florescent color as the brothers’ experiments bear fruit and give way to eye-popping spreads with the ultimate success of Day-Glo paints and dyes.
Ages 7 – 12
Charlesbridge, 2009 | ISBN 978-1570916731
Brother’s Day Activity
Follow the twisty glowing paths to match the Day-Glo product to the object they color! Print the Day-Glo Maze puzzle here!
Picture Book Review