Douglas Leigh

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Douglas Leigh
Douglas Leigh.jpg
Douglas Leigh with Mickey Rooney
BornMay 24, 1907
DiedDecember 14, 1999
NationalityUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Florida
Known forBeing a pioneer in signage and outdoor advertising

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 neon signs,[3] or electric billboards.[4][5] Leigh also designed the colored lighting scheme for the Empire State Building.[6]


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.[7]

The celebrated smoking Camel cigarette billboard in Times Square was designed by Douglas Leigh and mounted on the Hotel Claridge. (Photo, 1948)

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.[8] 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,[9] 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, which was 17 feet wide by 14 feet tall and had 12,000 crystals,[10] is hung at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street every holiday season. Many of 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. ^ "Neon nights: When 'liquid fire' powered New York City".
  4. ^ Cutler, Alan (Summer 2007). "A visual history of Times Square spectaculars". The Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on 2010-06-20.
  5. ^ Tell, Darcy (2007). Times Square Spectacular: Lighting Up Broadway. Harper-Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-088433-8.
  6. ^ City Lights. New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. 1989-05-22. p. 35.
  7. ^ Gray, Christopher (October 25, 1998). "Douglas Leigh, Sign Maker; The Man Behind Times Square's Smoke Rings". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Pollack, Michael (12 September 2014). "Answers to Questions About New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  9. ^ Wild, Chris. "1940s-1950s New York neon nights". Mashable. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  10. ^ Svab, Petr (3 November 2013). "Giant UNICEF Snowflake Is Up for Saving Children". Epoch Times. Retrieved 2 October 2015.

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