the raleigh giant statue

Lost History: 5 Vintage Signs & Ads from Raleigh’s Yesteryear

For those of us who grew up in North Carolina, vintage ads for Pepsi Cola and Krispy Kreme doughnuts bring back memories of simple summers and wistful childhoods. Emblematic of an era before television and websites, they remind of us a time before SEO and social media–back when advertising was tangible.

Markers of these vintage ads still remain on roadsides, sometimes visible, sometimes tucked away behind buildings. Some, like Krispy Kreme, have found a way to modernize their retro style.

How many of these old Raleigh ads do you remember?

the raleigh giant statue

1. The Raleigh Giant

He’s known by many names. The Muffler Man. Big Man. Paint Can Man. Raleigh has its very own giant, memorabilia from times long gone. He and his brothers were built in the 1960’s and scattered to business across America. The Raleigh Giant held paint cans at a decoration store, known then as Giant Decorator.

Now, he lives at Bradsher Landscape Supply. While in his previous life he held signs and paint cans, changing city ordinances forced him to at last put down his job as a giant advertisement.

mercury cougar statue in raleigh

2. The Mercury Cougar

Advertising was larger-than-life in the 70’s. Ford created a marketing stunt involving an enormous cougar, a promotional stunt for their line of Mercury Cougars. At 15 feet tall, this big kitty once guarded Downtown Boulevard at the Leith-Lincoln Mercury dealership. Radio advertisements even told listeners to find them at “the sign of the cat.” In a world without GPS, perhaps having your business marked by an enormous statue is a pretty good way of being found!

Is this giant cat the pet kitty of the Raleigh Giant? If so, she’s run pretty far away. The Leith Cougar calls Zebulon home, and she sits snarling on West Gannon Avenue.

mr peanut sign raleigh

3. The Mr. Peanut Sign

At 50 feet tall, the Mr. Peanut Sign was one of the first sights upon driving into downtown Raleigh in the 1960’s. In those days, this fancy, monocled, oversized legume was a regular part of the Raleigh skyline. In the 60’s companies like Planters didn’t use Instagram food pics to lure customers. Instead, the sight of Mr. Peanut smiling and scent of hot salty peanuts was advertising enough.

Unlike the Leith Cougar and Raleigh Giant, Mr. Peanut’s where-abouts are sadly unknown. He is a piece of Raleigh nostalgia lost to time.

krispy kreme raleigh hot now sign

4. Krispy Kreme Hot Now Sign

Krispy Kreme is an example of vintage advertising that has kept up with the times. In the 1970’s the company had a genius idea: Since everyone loves hot, fresh doughnuts, they’d create a sign that let people know when they were hot out of the oven! That red “Hot Now” sign is seared into the subconscious of every North Carolinian. As you know, whenever that red light shines on Peace Street, a line forms around the building.

However, with the invention of smartphones and apps, Krispy Kreme has taken their marketing game to a new level. Instead of waiting for cars to drive past and discover the glowing light, they have created a “Hot Now” app that alerts users when doughnuts are fresh. Brilliantly, they used the nostalgia of familiar branding, even on a modern device, by modeling the app features to look like the original sign we all know and love.

big yellow bulldozer sign hillsborough street raleigh
Street View image ©2018 Google

5. Big Yellow Bulldozer

The Big Yellow Bulldozer magically flying above Hillsborough Street — for decades, it’s been a marker for college kids everywhere that a thrilling Friday night in downtown was coming to a close. You’d see it at 3am, driving home from seeing a show at The Brewery, heading out to Sadlack’s Heroes, looking for music at School Kids, or heading out to a party on Maiden Lane. That Big Yellow Bulldozer let you know your dorm was near.

The historic sign has stood above the NC Equipment Building for more than 60 years. Now, it’s a bit obscured by new developments, and as Hillsborough Street progresses, concern grows for the fate of this small yellow vestige of history.

Losing Our Raleigh History

Advertising has changed a lot in the past five decades. While the Raleigh Giant, the Leith Cougar, the Hot Now Sign, Mr. Peanut, and the Yellow Bulldozer were simply advertisements in their day, they’ve become part of our history and our culture as a city. Those marketing campaigns were just following trends of the time, and now we see them as icons of Americana–of our own lost past.

Today’s ads, apps, and websites seem far less sturdy than the neon signs and heavy statues from decades ago. In 50 years, will we be nostalgic for the ads we’ve seen today? Will there be a graveyard of old websites for businesses that no longer exist?

Time will tell.