All of New York’s electric billboards originated with one: this 1892 “Ocean Breezes” ad on the north side of the Cumberland Hotel—at 23rd Street and Broadway that existed where the Flatiron Building is today.
“The sign, despite its unusually large scale, was a straightforward broadside type advertising a Coney Island resort,” writes Darcy Tell in Times Square Spectacular.
“Plain letters, three to six feet tall, spelled a multicolored text that filled most of the hotel’s wall. Electric flashers, newly invented, blinked six different lines in sequence.”
“Press accounts reported that it could be seen up Fifth Avenue as far as 57th Street and on Broadway as far as 34th Street.”
In 1896, The New York Times installed its own billboard at the Cumberland.
“[But] advertisers would soon come to prefer a different site, however—20 blocks to the north, in Times Square,” explains Tell.