Douglas Leigh

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For the skating coach, see Doug Leigh.
Douglas Leigh
Born May 24, 1907
Anniston, Alabama, USA
Died December 14, 1999
New York City, New York, USA
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Florida
Known for Being a pioneer in signage and outdoor advertising
The celebrated smoking Camel cigarette billboard in Times Square was designed by Douglas Leigh and mounted on the Hotel Claridge. (Photo, 1948)

Douglas Leigh (May 24, 1907 – December 14, 1999) was an American advertising executive and lighting designer, and a pioneer in signage and outdoor advertising.[1][2] He is famous for making New York City's Times Square the site of some of the world's most famous electric billboards.[3][4] Leigh also designed the colored lighting scheme for the Empire State Building.[5]


After financing his education at the University of Florida by buying the exclusive right to sell advertising for the yearbook, Leigh became a top salesman for a sign company in Birmingham. In 1929, he moved to New York and got a job at the General Outdoor Advertising Company, but quit in 1933 to strike out on his own.[6]

Leigh then designed a sign for the St. Moritz Hotel in exchange for the right to live there and to use the hotel's address at 50 Central Park South for his business. From there, Leigh proceeded to transform the signs at Times Square. His first eye-catching creation was a billboard for A&P, advertising the store's Eight O'Clock Coffee with clouds of steam emanating from a large cup of coffee. A Camel billboard blew smoke rings from a steam generator, while one for Kool cigarettes featured a blinking penguin. One for Ballantine Beer had clowns tossing quoits on a peg. The Coca-Cola sign at Bryant Park gave an ever-changing weather forecast (featuring a house and pictures of sun, rain, snow, etc.) along with the slogan "Thirst knows no season" (Leigh paid a tenant's weekly laundry bills to stop her from hanging her laundry on her clothesline in front of the sign). Leigh's design creation of a large illuminated snowflake is hung at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street every holiday season. With the exception of the Empire State Building, Leigh's creations have been replaced with newer signs, for which Leigh set the bar.

He was the step-grandfather of Prince Lorenzo Borghese.


  1. ^ Martin, Douglas (December 16, 1999). "Douglas Leigh, The Man Who Lit Up Broadway, Dies at 92". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Birthdate confirmed at the Social Security Death Index.
  3. ^ Cutler, Alan (Summer 2007). "A visual history of Times Square spectaculars". The Smithsonian Institution. 
  4. ^ Tell, Darcy (2007). Times Square Spectacular: Lighting Up Broadway. Harper-Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-088433-8. 
  5. ^ Empire State Building
  6. ^ Gray, Christopher (October 25, 1998). "Douglas Leigh, Sign Maker; The Man Behind Times Square's Smoke Rings". The New York Times. 

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