Skip to main content

Douglas Leigh Papers, 1903-1999

Biographical Note

Douglas Leigh was born in Anniston, Alabama, in 1907. After graduating from the University of Florida in 1928, he began his career as a salesman for the General Outdoor Advertising Company of Atlanta, Georgia. He moved to New York City in 1930 and developed his ideas for animated and illuminated advertising signs primarily in the vicinity of Times Square. He established his own advertising company, Douglas Leigh, Inc., in 1933 and created the popular Camel Cigarette billboard that featured a man's face exhaling smoke rings over Broadway.
Dubbed "The Man Who Lit Up New York" in his New York Times obituary, he was responsible for festooning Broadway with miles of spectacular electrical and animated signs, such as a steaming coffeepot, a winking penguin on a cake of ice for Kool cigarettes, and the giant Camel sign that puffed smoke rings from a Times Square sign from 1941 and 1967. These effects led to creating animated billboards, an innovation called the Leigh-EPOK animated, billboards matrix display, or EPOK. Leigh developed numerous dirigible advertising projects involving both painted logos and networks of lights over the surface of the dirigible. These sequentially-timed lights caused dramatic animated effects against the night sky.
Leigh was also a pioneer in the illumination of city skylines and buildings and thought of lighting up Manhattan's skyscrapers, beginning with the Empire State Building, in 1976 and continuing with the lighting and gilding of the Con Edison Building, the Helmsley Building, and the Crown Building. This idea was adopted by many other cities, including Cincinnati, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, and Baltimore with Leigh traveling there to supervise the final installation. Leigh was also involved with numerous urban improvement and renewal projects.
Leigh's career continued into the 1990's, and he died in 1999.