Saturday, November 9, 2019

Magikist Rug Cleaners: What happened to those three famous Magikist signs on Chicago highways?

From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, three neon Magikist signs in the shape of lips stood sentry by the expressways near the northern, southern, and western entrances to the City of Chicago.
In the Chicago area, the Magikist Lips (in the form of huge signs on the Edens Expressway, Dan Ryan Expressway, Kennedy Expressway, and Eisenhower Expressway, which lit up and flashed) were well-known landmarks. The signs were 75 feet wide and 40 feet high at the lips pucker. Travelers from the early 1960s through the late 1990s tended to use them as landmarks to figure out how much longer it would take to arrive at their destination.
Kennedy Expressway, Chicago.
The sign was particularly special to Minnie Gage of Arlington Heights because those lips were hers.

In the mid-1940s, her husband, the late Bill Gage, owned Austin Rug Cleaners, a business he founded in a converted blacksmith's shop in 1929. In casting about for a promotional gimmick, Gage settled on the slogan "the kiss of beauty" and the company's new name, Magikist. He had Minnie apply extra lipstick and kiss a piece of paper; a commercial artist turned the imprint into a logo.

In Magikist's heyday, the lips appeared on hundreds of local billboards, over 1,000 buses, and three spectacular signs. Chicago musician/artist Wesley Willis frequently mentioned Magikist in his song lyrics, although he used the word as a high-praise term akin to "magician."

When the Gage family sold the Magikist business to a West Coast firm in 1985, it was the beginning of the end for the signs.

The demise of the Magikist signs:
Sign #1) The Magikist lips at 85th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway were razed in 1992.

Sign #2) The lips at Cicero Avenue and the Eisenhower Expressway came down with no fanfare several years later.

Sign #3) The final lips rose 80 feet above a parking lot where Montrose Avenue met the Kennedy Expressway just south of the junction with the Edens Expressway, which was removed in late 2003.

All three signs, because of rust and rot, were destroyed.
WBBM Channel 2 - "Magikist Wedding Proposal"
There are just three surviving Magikist outlets: independent carpet-cleaning businesses in Milwaukee and Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Oak Forest, Illinois. They all are still using the lips logo.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Miss the lips. We all ducked as we went by so we didn't get kissed

  2. Thank you for this! I used to pass by the sign on Cicero every Sunday when my grandparents took me to church. It's sad to see that they're all gone.

  3. Thanks I remember it well. It did mean we were coming home on Evens.

  4. I rememberseeing the lips when we used to go to Fun Town on 95th and Stoney from the Dan Ryan.

  5. Pretty good for a carpet cleaning business

  6. All three Magikist signs had controls for both the time and temperature display ('Time-O-Temp', with the numeral style designated as 'K' = 6 x 9, full-throat) and 88 x 7 changing message zipper ('Copy Changer') from Time-O-Matic, a company known today as WatchFire Signs LLC. The zipper on the Dan Ryan was in place as early as 1964, but the 4 x 7 font most know didn't come around until about 1968-69. It isn't known when the one on the Eisenhower was installed, or the one on the Kennedy.

    The spacing of the time display between rows and columns in each lamp bank was about 7" on the Eisenhower and Dan Ryan signs, and 8" on the Kennedy signs (thus the numeral height would have been a bit over 5' on the former and 6' on the latter; the zipper's rows and columns were spaced on 10" centers and the 7 rows would make the characters' height a shade under 6'. Definitely on the zippers PAR38 bulbs (most likely floodlights) would have been used, likely on the clocks too.


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