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The Smoking Camel Sign of New York

Posted on 02 October 2015

Before Times Square was all flat LCD panels its signs were far more textural. Bent tin, neon, flashing light bulbs, and all manner of mechanical contraptions animated the signs that covered the walls of the great canyon of advertising. One of the most famous signs from the 30's through the 60's was the Camel Cigarette sign. The makers tapped into the boiler system in the Con Ed Building, routing plumbing up to a hole in the sign, which every 4 seconds would release a "smoke" ring of steam through a ring shaped diaphragm and out of the hole. A rotating cast of faces were painted around the hole throughout the years to represent an assortment of Camel smokers, from WWII fighter pilots, to movie stars, to plain old businessmen.

Another point of interest is what lay behind the sign. Ames Billiard Academy, the once-great billiards room, was located behind the sign. Ames is perhaps most well known as being the location where much of The Hustler was filmed, starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman. From what I gather 1966 was the last year for both the sign and the pool hall. Billiards and big mechanical signs were decidedly no longer en vogue by the mid 60's. 

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