The most iconic
Gone for more than 45 years, the smoke-billowing sign for Camel cigarettes is still remembered. The 30-by-100-foot billboard featured a man holding a cigarette; his mouth formed an O, which produced gargantuan smoke rings every four seconds. The circles were actually steam, pumped by the Con Ed building's heating system into a small chamber behind the hole, where a diaphragm mounted on a mechanical piston created the illusion.
The Walgreens sign at 42nd Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue comprises 12 million LEDs, stretching across 17,000 square feet. The display, which forms a dramatic diagonal, soars to a height of 341 feet. It contains enough candlepower to show off the company logo and other ads even on the brightest days. The Walgreens sign fired up in November 2008, replacing the previous record-holder, the NASDAQ Marketsite Tower sign at 43rd and Broadway, which had reigned as champ since 2000.
By the mid-1990s the "new" Times Square was taking off, and there was no better symbol than the half-scale model of the Concorde supersonic jet, part of a display for British Airways. The model was made of fiberglass and steel, measured 102 feet long and had a 42-foot wingspan. It didn't just look airworthy: If it had been fitted with half-size engines, it could have flown.
The most technically complex
The Coca-Cola sign erected in 1991 was one of the last that combined neon with 3-D mechanical animation. At regular intervals, a concealed robotic arm would swing the bottle cap off the top, as a huge straw slid up from inside the bottle, and the contents bubbled away as if an unseen giant were quenching its thirst.
Maybe the Coke creation was inspired by its competitor's sign, built in 1990 at 1 Times Square.
The signs in Times Square are uniquely odd, and the same could be said for some of the people behind them. Take the Gun Fighters National DeathClock: The three-story electronic billboard lit up on New Year's Eve 1993, ticking off gun-related deaths in America during the following year. It was the brainchild of New Jersey financier Robert Brennan, whose brother had been killed in a gun-related crime 25 years earlier. Brennan was no stranger to outlaw behavior himself: Found guilty of securities fraud in 1994, he was also convicted of money laundering and bankruptcy fraud in 2001 and sentenced to a nine-year term.
Check out the model train that ran around the bottom of the mountain of ice from 1947 into the 1950s; a different sponsoring railroad had its logos painted on it monthly.
Even in 1912, people loved to watch cats. This spectacle was at 39th Street and Broadway.
So what if electricity didn't exist yet? Circa 1890, Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street was plastered with printed billboards.
This was the first electric spectacular, unveiled in 1892 at Fifth Avenue and Broadway.
Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets was once the site of memorable signs, including this Camel character (up until 1994) and an aquarium-themed neon scene for Wrigley's spearmint gum in 1936.