As heard yesterday on my show, listener Jeff Mild claimed that, on the big Anheuser-Busch sign next to Highway 40, the animated eagle is wrong — it’s flying backwards!!

Here’s his argument, along with video of the sign so you can judge for yourself:

I am a St. Louis native, 45 years old. My parents took me to lots of Cardinals games (both football and baseball) and Blues hockey games. I remember driving home as a kid after the games and waiting to catch sight of the Budweiser eagle sign on hwy 40. The eagle was spectacular – graceful and BIG. I feel as though it is an icon of the city.

Quite a few years ago, AB had the sign restored (sometime in the 1970’s ?). A few of the animations, like the white/gold lights that outlined the “A” used to dance around. Now those lights are gone. But more importantly, they accidentally reversed the order of the 5 frame animation that makes the eagle fly.

I know – it sounds crazy. How could it have been flying backwards for so long without anyone noticing? Well it has and I did. Once you suspect it is flying backward, and then study the sign, it becomes obvious. Also, to the younger viewer who may have never witnessed the eagle flying properly, one may see the awkward bird trying to fly and dismiss it as “It’s just difficult to animate an eagle in flight using neon lights”.

But don’t take my word for it, I have created animated gif files of the the eagle flying backwards and forwards. Most picture viewers and web browsers will work to view the files. The first file is the eagle as it flies now – backwards. The second file has been reversed to show how the eagle should be flying.

To be honest, I can’t tell the difference, but several people I’ve showed this to agree with Jeff. For an expert’s opinion, I have asked Walter Crawford of the World Bird Sanctuary what he thinks, and he says that he will go look at the sign in person before rendering his verdict. We’re also waiting to hear from someone at the brewery with their response.

In the meantime, what do you think? Add comments below.

Also for your viewing pleasure, a home movie of the way the sign looked in 1962, as shot by Joseph A. Hess [contributed by his son, Carl].

Update 8/2/06 @ 5pm: This afternoon, Anheuser-Busch sent me this official statement: “We appreciate all the interest in our Highway 40 ‘A and Eagle’ neon sign. This historic sign has been a landmark in our community since it was put up in 1962, and we agree it’s important it accurately depicts and eagle in flight. We are currently looking into this to ensure the sign’s accuracy.”

They’ll be happy to hear Walter Crawford’s verdict. He says the eagle is not flying backwards, but blames the illusion on the way the five-step animation works, with one step making it seem like the eagle is going backwards, when in fact it’s just the animation resetting. Listen to his full explanation here.

Update 8/16/06 @ 6pm: After considering the visual evidence and hearing Jeff make his case on my show two weeks ago, I received the following statement today from Tony Ponturo, VP Global Media and Sports Marketing for Anheuser-Busch:

“We recently inspected the Highway 40 ‘A & Eagle’ neon sign and learned that a short circuit in some electrical wiring had caused the eagle’s flight to change in appearance. We immediately fixed it, and the sign once again accurately depicts and eagle’s flight.

We appreciate you and your listeners for bringing this to our attention, and we hope St. Louisans and visitors to our community continue to enjoy this St. Louis landmark.”

Case closed, with credit once again to Jeff for noticing it and bringing it to my attention.