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Throughout the twentieth century, Artkraft Strauss, located in Manhattan, New York, was the preeminent designer and creator of Times Square's iconic signs and displays. These included the “smoking” Camel sign, which wafted giant smoke rings over the Square; the Bond Clothing Stores display, a block-long extravaganza with a perpetual waterfall; and the high-neon north-Square “spectaculars” created for Canadian Club and Admiral Television. For almost a century, Artkraft Strauss was also responsible for the annual midnight ball drop that signaled the new year’s arrival.
Artkraft Strauss began as Strauss Signs. Founded in 1897 by artisan Benjamin Strauss, the company furnished New York’s retailers with posters and painted show cards. By the teens and 20s, Strauss signs, applying the innovative methods of a Russian immigrant named Jacob Starr, had become the Square’s principal builder of theater marquees and entertainment displays, including the original marquee for the New Amsterdam Theatre. In the 1920s Starr left Strauss to start his own engineering firm in association with the Artkraft Company of Lima, Ohio, a leading maker of neon lighting, a newly minted technology. Starr formed Artkraft-New York, and in 1931 merged with his old employer, Strauss, creating Artkraft Strauss. By the 1950s, Artkraft Strauss dominated the outdoor advertising market in Times Square, and was known worldwide.
Artkraft Strauss maintained its singular presence in the Square after neon had been eclipsed by electronic technologies, a process that began in the 1980s, and was thus involved in the area’s rebirth after years of deterioration. Chief among its work from this period are the block-long news and stock tickers on Morgan Stanley’s headquarters on Broadway, and the 1992 north-Square Coca-Cola display, which featured state-of-the-art digital technology. After divesting itself of its manufacturing facilities and the majority of its outdoor advertising locations in 2006, Artkraft Strauss became a design and project management consultant. It also established an archive of its photos and other memorabilia, a collection spanning over a century of New York City commercial and esthetic history.
The Artkraft Strauss manufacturing facility located on West 57th Street in Manhattan, which the company occupied from 1925 until 2001, was demolished in February 2011 to make way for redevelopment.
- National Debt Clock, a project realised and maintained by Artkraft Strauss
McKendry Joe, "One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World," David R. Godine, 2012
Darcy Tell, Times Square Spectacular, Smithsonian Books, 2007
Lynne B. Sagalyn, Times Square Roulette, The MIT Press, 2001
Tama Starr and Edward Hayman, Signs and Wonders, Currency Doubleday, 1998
Kenneth T. Jacobson, The Encyclopedia Of New York, Yale University Press, 1995
William R. Trevor, Inventing Times Square, Russel Sage Foundation, 1991