It didn’t take long after the advent of flying for crafty marketing types to come up with a way to use it for advertising.   Skywriting was the way showing the most promise: a small airplane spits out magic smoke during a flight, creating text able to be read by someone on the Messages naturally run the gamut from the inane to the weighty. Advertisers had a field day.

The first use of skywriting for advertising came on November 28, 1922, when Captain Cyril Turner of the Royal Air Force flew over New York City, spelling out, “Hello USA. Call Vanderbilt 7200.” Within just a few hours, 47,000 people had done just that. And of course operators were standing by at sky1Vanderbilt 7200 to take their orders although no one had any idea what was being sold.

Pepsi-Cola became the first major brand to use skywriting as a medium to reach a mass market with thousands of flights through the 1930s into the mid-1940s. During the following years, skywriting became more sophisticated with the use of coordinated flights by fleets of planes that could deliver longer and more clearly written text messages.

At one point, rumor has it, an ambitious skywriter produced Pride and Prejudice in its entirety, but most observers fell asleep during the first three paragraphs.



One thought on “November 28, 1922: Ghost Writers in the Sky

  1. Back in the 1970s in Kensington, Maryland (just outside of DC), someone painted “Surrender Dorothy” on the side of a CSX Railway bridge (over the beltway). As you drove around the beltway and approached the bridge you could also see the Mormon Temple. It was quite entertaining, and it seemed that every time it was painted over, the message would re-appear shortly thereafter.


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