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Artkraft Strauss records

Collection Data

The Arkraft Strauss Sign Corporation was New York City's preeminent sign designer and manufacturer in the 20th century, responsible for creating some of the great icons in American advertising. Particularly known for their "spectaculars"—giant illuminated signs often incorporating special effects and moving parts—Artkraft Strauss' most famous works include the "smoking" Camel Cigarettes sign, the "flying" Anheuser-Busch eagle, and the Coca-Cola sign at 2 Times Square. The company was also responsible for the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square, a tradition they began in 1907, until 1996. The records of Artkraft Strauss document over seventy years of operations of this family-owned and family-operated business. The records date primarily from the mid-1930s through 2005; little material pertaining to its early decades is present. The collection contains executive office files; management correspondence; electrical division records; ledgers; press and promotional material; photographs; and, most notably, job files, which document the creation of many of Artkraft Strauss' projects in New York City, Atlantic City, Boston, and elsewhere, from 1936 to 2007. Work represented includes numerous projects for the Anheuser-Busch Company, such as breweries, stadium signage, and multiple Budweiser spectaculars; a British Air spectacular in Times Square involving a half-size scale model of a Concorde jet; theater marquees; and movie signage.
Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation (Creator)
Starr, Jonathan (Creator)
Starr, Tama (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1915 - 2011
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 17768
Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation
Advertising, Outdoor -- United States
Billboards -- New York (N.Y.)
Electric signs -- United States
Family corporations
Neon signs -- United States
Signs and signboards -- United States
Times Square (New York, N.Y.)
Records (Documents)
Design drawings
Video recordings
Biographical/historical: The Arkraft Strauss Sign Corporation created some of the great icons of American advertising. A major presence in Times Square since its earliest days, Artkraft Strauss was responsible for the "smoking" Camel Cigarettes sign, the "flying" Anheuser-Busch eagle, the 2 Times Square Coca-Cola sign, and numerous other large-scale illuminated signs referred to in the trade as "spectaculars." Artkraft also leased outdoor advertising locations in Time Square and throughout New York City, and was responsible for the New Year's Eve ball lowering in Times Square, a tradition they began in 1907, until 1996. The Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation had its roots in Strauss Signs, a small sign-painting operation founded in 1897 by Benjamin Strauss. Strauss Signs had a reputation for producing meticulously painted showcards and applying gold leaf lettering to office doors and storefronts, but by the 1920s, the company had grown to become the principal builder of theatre marquees on Broadway, whose work included the original marquees of the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, the Ziegfeld Follies, and many of the original Loew's Theatre buildings. One of Strauss' employees, a Russian immigrant named Jacob Starr, quickly rose to the position of company foreman. He was dubbed "the lamplighter of Broadway" for the enormous quantities of incandescent bulbs used in his signs. In the 1920s, Starr struck out on his own. In 1929, he purchased the Artkraft Company of Lima, Ohio, which held the exclusive North American franchise for neon, a burgeoning technology at that time. Starr returned to New York in 1932 and merged his new company with Benjamin Strauss' Strauss Signs to become Artkraft Strauss. During World War II, Artkraft supplied custom metal work to the United States military, including hand-made airplane wings and containers for installation in aircraft and tanks. When blackouts and energy shortages limited their ability to illuminate their signs through electricity and neon, the company developed alternative methods, including the use of rechargeable battery packs and dangling mirrors that picked up ambient light. In the postwar decades, Artkraft grew to employ more than 200 people, many of whom were second- and third-generation artisans. During this period, they dominated the outdoor advertising market, and created many of the instantly recognizable signs which would become synonymous with Times Square: the Kleenex sign featuring Little Lulu; the animated Canadian Club whisky sign; the Bond Clothing waterfall; and a Budweiser sign atop the Brill Building with an animated neon eagle and "galloping" neon Clydesdales. In addition to the spectaculars of Times Square, Artkraft Strauss was responsible for a number of stadium scoreboards, including those in Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis; Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium; Anaheim Center in California; and Shea Stadium in New York. Artkraft Strauss has historically been a family affair: Starr's son, Mel, became the company's primary designer and salesman in 1939, and later, its president; Mel's daughter, Tama, and son, Jonathan, took the company into the third generation of family ownership and operation after Mel's death in 1988. Tama Starr acquired sole ownership of the company in 1994, and as of 2011 continues to serve as its president and CEO. Tama Starr's ascendancy coincided with the company's extension into marketing and promotion, sign design and maintenance, and media consulting. It also marked an era in which Artkraft Strauss would become known for more than just their signs; they played an active role in the redevelopment of Times Square through their participation in the 42nd Street Development Project, a joint initiative of the City of New York and the New York State Urban Development Council. Tama was a member of Community Board 5's Times Square and Land Use committees, and subsequently became chair of the board. The company was awarded an exclusive contract to market ten new advertising displays in the heart of the revitalization area. Their 1993 creation of an anti-gun sign, the Dehere Gun Fighters of America's Gun Clock—colloquially known as the "Death Clock," a play on the Durst Foundation's Debt Clock, another Artkraft Strauss creation—raised hackles among area businesses and the Times Square BID, who felt that broadcasting crime statistics in Times Square flew in the face of their efforts to rid the neighborhood of crime and to rehabilitate its reputation. This controversy had lingering and deleterious effects for Artkraft Strauss; most notably, it led to a falling out with the Times Square BID, who had promoted the New Year's Eve ball drops since the early 1990s. In 1996, Times Square BID announced that Artkraft Strauss would no longer provide or operate the New Year's Eve ball. Artkraft Strauss continued to produce some of the most recognizable and innovative displays in New York City in the 1990s. During this period, neon had been eclipsed by other technologies, such as LED, video, and complex computer-operated robotics. Artkraft remained on the cutting edge of these technologies, as evidenced by their work on a number of large, technically sophisticated projects, including a 12 ton, half-scale model of a Concorde jet for British Airways; a 48 foot mechanically animated lava lamp for Target; block-long Dow Jones and NASDAQ stock tickers on the face of the Morgan Stanley building; a new Coke sign at 2 Times Square featuring a 40 foot high, 3-dimensional Coke bottle with animated fiber optics and a popping cap; and the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza marquee, which included an installation of over 15,000 square feet of signage. The company also managed a number of historically significant projects, such as the restoration of Radio City Music Hall's original art deco marquees, the contribution of a bronze marquee, vitrines, and a chandelier to Carnegie Hall, and the refurbishment of the Long Island City Pepsi-Cola sign which the company had originally manufactured and erected in 1936. Over the years, Artkraft Strauss acquired the assets of smaller companies, and created a number of subsidiaries. Companies that have operated under the umbrella of Artkraft Strauss include Artkraft Strauss Leasing, Inc; Artkraft Infocenter Network; 212 West 43rd Street Corp.; A&S Electrical Displays; Electric Display, Inc; West Side Neon; Globe Maintenance; ESP Signs LTD; Calvano Erectors; El Advertising; and Crossroads Outdoor Advertising. By the end of the 1990s, it had diversified its operations to include marketing and promotion; advertising space leasing; sign design and engineering; and sign fabrication and installation. Artkraft Strauss Sign Company closed its factory in 2006, and currently operates as a sign design and consulting company.
Content: Artkraft Strauss designed, fabricated, installed, leased, and maintained an extensive range of sign products, including exterior identification signs, theater marquees, billboards, sports scoreboards, bus shelters, directional signage, and the giant illuminated signs known in the trade as "spectaculars," for which the company was particularly famous. The records of the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation document over 70 years of work in the field of outdoor advertising. The collection is arranged in eight series: Executive Office Files; II. Management Correspondence Files; III. Job files; IV. Electrical Division Records; V. Ledgers; VI. Press and Promotional Material; VII. Photographs; and VIII: Administrative Files. The collection also contains audiovisual material, which is closed pending preservation transfer. The records date primarily from the mid-1930s through 2005. Little material dating prior to the 1930s is extant, as the company did not begin to maintain its corporate records until 1932, the year it moved into its factory on the west side of Manhattan. The company chose not to retain records for all of their jobs, but rather to highlight select jobs which they felt represented the technical and artistic scope of their work. After closing its factory in 2006 the company held an auction of its holdings, including signs, memorabilia, and blueprints. As a result of these factors, the records are not a comprehensive chronicle of the work of Artkraft Strauss, and some of its most recognizable works are underrepresented—or not represented at all—in the collection. Executive Office Files represent jobs and special projects managed by Tama Starr in her capacity as president of Artkraft Strauss. Management Correspondence Files consist largely of correspondence between Artkraft Strauss' executive, management, and sales teams and their clients. A small quantity of material from the electrical division illustrates the work of the company's electricians in the 1940s through 1970s, as well as providing some of the earliest administrative material in the collection. Ledgers of accounts receivable date from 1946 to 1968, but are not inclusive. Promotional material demonstrates Artkraft Strauss' popularity in the trade and popular presses, while a collection of souvenir postcards of Times Square demonstrates the impact of these outsized displays on the popular imagination. The signs and spectaculars of Artkraft Strauss are documented in various ways throughout the records, but of particular importance are the Job files, which represent the bulk of the collection and illustrate the creation of many of Artkraft Strauss' famous projects in New York City, Atlantic City, Boston, and other locations from 1936 through the 2000s. Job files are records of sign construction, which may include sign fabrication, installation, maintenance, alteration, and repairs. Job files may also include cost sheets, labor records, materials specifications, engineering and other technical information, contracts, permits, insurance policies, drawings, layouts, mechanicals, blueprints, photographs, and other material. The projects documented range in scope from street and directional signage to illuminated spectaculars to three-dimensional installations featuring computer-operated robotics. Location presentations and client proposals are also included here, as are contracts, leases, and construction records. Project management files provide an extensive record of large-scale, technologically complex projects undertaken in the 1990s and 2000s, such as the Morgan Stanley world clock, the renovation of the Dow Jones stock zipper, and state-of-the-art Budweiser, the Coca-Cola signs at 1 and 2 Times Square, and the Samsung sign in Times Square. The photographs series is extensive, and contains not only images of the company's signs, but often of their fabrication and installation. Artkraft Strauss' employees and facilities are also featured. Photographs show sign locations and proposed locations throughout New York City and beyond. Audiovisual material places the company and its work in historical and cultural context through interviews, documentary footage, and b-roll. The small section of Administrative files contains blueprints, by-laws, leases, and documents pertaining to incorporation and company stock. Researchers should note that material relating to specific signs may be present in multiple locations. This is especially true of work dating from the 1990s; researchers pursuing information on projects from this period should consult Series I. A. Project Files; Series III. A. Job Files; and Series III. B. Project Management Files. Likewise, while some job files may contain photographs or images, researchers looking for visual documentation of specific signs should also refer to Series VII. Photographs.
Physical Description
Extent: 168.31 linear feet 307 boxes, 37 volumes, 18 oversized folders, 93 tubes 11.76 gb (3613 computer files) 120 video files
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b19527637
MSS Unit ID: 17768
Archives collections id: archives_collections_17768
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): e38e7d20-8dfe-0136-bcd1-029c07b456df
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