The chariot race sign in a young Herald Square

This enchanting postcard features a moonlit Herald Square looking up Broadway, with the elevated tracks and tall office buildings and stores glowing from within.

And then there’s an image of a Roman Chariot race in the background, all lit up majestically in the night.

A gigantic display of light that went up in 1910, it was used by a variety of advertisers over the years, according to the American Sign Museum:

“In 1910, the great chariot race sign in New York City was one of the most famous electrical displays in the world. Erected on the roof of a seven-story building overlooking Herald Square, it featured a Roman chariot race and the sign was composed of 20,000 bulbs of different colors, 70,000 connections and 2,750 switches.

“The simulated movement of horses, drivers and whips was accomplished by 2,500 flashes per minute and the sign attracted crowds every night for years. The erection of an intervening building ended its period of use by a series of advertisers.”

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8 Responses to “The chariot race sign in a young Herald Square”

  1. Joly MacFie Says:

    Great picture. McAlpin Hotel on the near right.

  2. petey Says:

    was the chariot sign itself just for show?

    • wildnewyork Says:

      From a 1950s New York Times article recalling the electric billboards of the early 20th century:

      “From 1910 to 1914 the wonder sign was the Roman Chariot Race on the Normandie Hotel at Broadway and 38th Street, a 20,000-light monster put up by the Rice Electrical Display Company.”

      And from a 1936 NYT article:

      “The Chariot Race, set on a rooftop at Broadway and 37th Street in 1911 by the Rice Leaders of the World, won instant fame, too. It represented two chariot teams, of four horses each, plunging across the sky in an arena crowded with spectators, who jumped up and down.

      “The advertising space around the central display was rented out by the Rice Leaders to manufacturers of various products, but the idea of group advertisers on spectaculars didn’t take and the sign finally came down.”

      • petey Says:

        so it was in its way an ad for the rice display company. whatever the reason it looks remarkable!

  3. Herald Towers Says:

    This is a great postcard of Herald Square ! Joly, is that the Hotel McAlpin directly on the right?

  4. Herald Towers Says:

    Thank you, Jolie! It is not rhetorical, I just wanted to be sure that the corner building was indeed the present-day Towers . We share this postcard on our Facebook page, great piece of history!

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