Coppertone sign

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Original Coppertone girl sign (vintage 1958) getting routine maintenance in 1980 on Parkleigh House, Biscayne Blvd. in Miami

The original plastic, metal and neon Coppertone girl sign was designed and made in 1958 by Tropicalites, a sign company owned by Morris "Moe" Bengis. Tropicalites was located on North West 54th Street in Miami, three blocks from Biscayne Boulevard, near where the sign is planned to be reinstalled.

Before producing the original Coppertone Girl sign, Moe Bengis met with Benjamin Green, who invented the Coppertone product in his kitchen in 1944 and Abe Plough, the founder of Schering-Plough which bought Coppertone in 1957. Tropicalites' sketch artist Larry Moore drew most of the original sign layouts from a design of the little girl and dog created in 1953 by the advertising agency Tally Embry.

The original Coppertone logo was the profile of an Indian chief, and the slogan was "Don't Be A Paleface." Native Americans took offense, so the Taly Embry agency was hired to come up with a new ad campaign and logo.

Supposedly, the inspiration for the Coppertone girl was Deborah Martin, who was the granddaughter of early Coppertone owner Charles E. Clowe. Clowe's wife Sophia noticed that Martin's training pants had slipped and exposed her bottom while poolside. She then remarked to her husband that such an image on a billboard would be more appealing to her than sexy girls.

After Schering-Plough had bought Coppertone, the original designs were lost in a fire. In 1959 Joyce Ballantyne Brand recreated the now iconic Coppertone Girl artwork with very minor changes.[1]

Marvin Goodman, Morris Bengis' son-in-law came to work in 1958 for Tropicalites and was involved in the 1959 installation of the sign at its original location on the north wall of Parkleigh House at 530 Biscayne Boulevard. The 3-story-high sign overlooked the New Year's Eve Orange Bowl Parade route.

Tropicalites produced many signs in their Miami workshop including Rayco (the original Tropicalites label may still be on the sign), the Vagabond Motel in MiMO, Burger King (Tropicalites made the first 700 signs for them) and all original Royal Castles. Morris' son Jerome Bengis knew Bill Singer, the founder of Royal Castle). Other prominent signs near the Parkleigh House were also made by Tropicalites: Delta Air Lines, Hertz Rent-A-Car and the Sinclair dinosaur.

Moe Bengis merged Tropicalites with Claude Southern Corp., creating one of the largest sign companies in the United States in the early 1960s. Unhappy with the new company, Moe left with his original sketch artist Larry Moore, Marvin Goodman and his two main accounts; Burger King and Coppertone. After graduating from college in 1968, Moe's son Jerome came into the company, now called Bengis Associates. Jerry handled both accounts as Morris was ill. The Coppertone account became huge grew, with roughly 500 signs all over the east coast, with the most prominent being the original on the Parkleigh House which will now adorn the streets of MiMO.

Coppertone girl sign is removed from the Concord Building in Miami, Florida on 17 May 2008
Sign at new location at 7300 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami

In 1991 the sign was removed from Parkleigh House to make room for the expansion of Miami-Dade Community College. Schering-Plough donated the sign to the people of Miami and placed it in the care of Dade Heritage Trust. Miami's Coppertone girl sat in a warehouse until 1995 when the repaired girl, her 12-foot-long (3.7 m) dog and 5-foot-high (1.5 m) letters were mounted on the east wall of the Concord Building at 66 West Flagler Street across from the courthouse.

In 2008 another forced relocation brought Miami's girl back to Tropical Signs of Florida, now known as American Tropical Signs & Service. Tropical Signs of Florida was the iteration of Tropicalites/Bengis Associates in 2009. The sign was donated by Dade Heritage Trust to MiMO Biscayne Association, which oversaw the restoration of the Coppertone girl. She was returned to her old neighborhood along with the dog on the side of a building at 7300 Biscayne Boulevard.[2]

The sign is 33 feet (10 m) high by 29 feet (8.8 m) wide, the little girl stands 27 feet 1 inch (8.26 m) high and with her dog is 27 feet 10 inches (8.48 m) wide. Her head rises 4 feet (1.2 m) above the roof line of the building.

As of late 2011 the sign has been in need of repair and funding. The owner, MiMo Association said they could not continue paying for insurance and maintenance. Merck, the parent company of Coppertone sunscreen makers Schering-Plough agreed to help and promised to pay US$1800 yearly for insurance and upkeep for the next five years.[3]


  1. ^ "Joyce B. Brand, Commercial Artist, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2008. 
  2. ^ Bengis, Jerome. "The Coppertone Girl Comes Home". Dali Art Blog. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  3. ^ Candido, Sergio. "Merck promises to pay expenses for Coppertone Girl sign". The Miami Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 

External links[edit]

  1. Tomb, Jeffrey. 6 February 1995. ”COPPERTONE GIRL ON NEW TURF." Miami Herald
  2. Klinkenberg, Jeff. 5 September 2004. "Real Florida: Red-faced with the Coppertone Girl", St. Petersburg Times (2004-09-05). Interview with Joyce Ballantyne Brand
  3. Griffis, Margaret. Mar 2008. “Get That Girl in the Picture.” Biscayne Times
  4. Viglucci, Andres. 17 May 2008. ”DOWNTOWN MIAMI: Iconic Coppertone Girl sign may move to MiMo.” Miami Herald
  5. Griffis, Margaret. Uploaded 14 December 2008. [1].
  6. Bengis, Jerome. May 2008. “Get the story on the fate of Miami’s 1959 vintage Coppertone sign.” Bengis Fine Art & Appraisal.
  7. TV News Segments. 2008. Coppertone Sign Removal.
  8. City of Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board. 7 October 2008. Agenda
  9. Viglucci, Andres. 8 October 2008. ”Two Miami icons designated historic landmarks.” Miami Herald
  10. Tropical Signs. 2008. [2] Bengis Fine Art & Appraisal
  11. Griffis, Margaret. July 2007. "New Life for the Coppertone Girl." Biscayne Times [3]
  12. Griffis, Margaret. December 2008. "Home At Last!." Biscayne Times [4]
  13. American Tropical Signs & Service. 2009. Removal, restoration and installation