Painted advertising signs were common in the eighteenth century, supplemented by illuminated gas signs in the nineteenth century. But electric signs proved ideal for commercial lighting, because they were available in a wider range of colors and could achieve illusions of movement, while being impervious to rain and wind. At first, businesses used small signs and lighted windows, but by the 1890s corporations erected enormous signs to advertise mass produced goods in city centers. Spectacular lighting technologies also were used by mass entertainment venues and department stores, creating a lively downtown. Amusement parks, emerging out of the exposition midways, developed a similar aesthetic, which contradicted both the harmonious designs of world’s fairs and the quieter, even lighting of “moonlight towers.” Starting in 1907 skyscrapers also began to be illuminated, functioning as giant advertisements for both the corporations that owned them and the private enterprise system that the new urban lighting embodied. The Woolworth Building epitomized these developments, and was dubbed “the cathedral of commerce.” Skyscrapers adopted some special effects, but seeking to retain neo-classical dignity.
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