Smoke rings over Broadway

06 septiembre 2007

One of the most enduring images of Times Square (in New York) is the Camel Man, who blew smoke rings around the clock for decades from a billboard mounted on the Claridge Hotel on Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets. The billboard bacame a New York fixture for 25 years until the hotel, which served as a location for the film “Midnight Cowboy,” was replaced by an office building in 1966.

The idea of a billboard which puffed out five-foot-wide smoke rings of steam was developed by American advertising executive Douglas Leigh. The smoke rings were chosen because outdoor lighting had been banned because of World War II's blackout measures.

Behind the hole was a steel chamber with a rubber backing that acted like a diaphragm. As steam filled the chamber, the rubber was pulled tight by a gear. When a second gear turned, the diaphragm relaxed, forcing the steam out of the chamber with a whooshing sound and sending it, like a smoke ring, wafting over Broadway.

The Camel Smoke Ring billboard featured the slogan "I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel" and a man who blew giant smoke rings every four seconds. The image switched from soldiers to sailors to airmen. Until 1966, the billboard puffed away about 200 million smoke rings!

More info and sources: 1, 2