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Billboard reading "Will the Last Person Leaving SEATTLE -- Turn Out the Lights" appears near Sea-Tac International Airport on April 16, 1971.

HistoryLink.org Essay 1287 : Printer-Friendly Format

On April 16, 1971, real-estate agents Bob McDonald and Jim Youngren put the words, "Will the last person leaving SEATTLE -- Turn out the lights" on a billboard at S 167th Street and Pacific Highway S near Sea-Tac International Airport. The two realtors, who work for Henry Broderick, Inc., put up the billboard as a humorous response to pessimism generated by the national aerospace industry's nosedive, known locally as the Boeing Bust.

A Sign of the Times

The recession came as The Boeing Company, the region's largest employer, went from a peak of 100,800 employees in 1967 to a low of 38,690 in April 1971. McDonald said their out-of-town clients "were amazed that Seattle wasn’t a ghost town with weeds growing in the streets. We wanted to counteract that attitude with a little humor" (Duncan). They chose a billboard site that they inevitably passed after picking up their clients at the airport. The men rented the billboard for $160.

The Boeing recovery began slowly: By October 1971 the firm employed 53,300 workers.

Sources:
Don Duncan, Washington: the First One Hundred Years, 1889-1989 (Seattle: The Seattle Times, 1989), 108, 109-110; The Seattle Times, February 25, 1986, p. A3; Ronald R. Boyce, Seattle-Tacoma and the Southern Sound (Bozeman, Montana: Northwest Panorama Publishing, 1986), 99; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 297.
Note: A previous version of this essay incorrectly stated that the sign went up on April Fool's Day (April 1). According to the contract, the sign was scheduled for display from April 16 to April 30. This file was corrected on December 17, 2003.


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Will the Last Person Leaving Seattle... billboard, 1971
Courtesy The Seattle Times


 
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