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History of Vintage Advertising and Signs

Updated on April 27, 2020

Ancient Petroglyphs

Ancient Petroglyph
Ancient Petroglyph

Ancient Petroglyph

The word petroglyph is derived from the Greeks. Petra means "stone," and glyphein means "to carve an image." While it isn't like the images are giving directions but more of indicating what is around and found in the area. Petroglyphs are located around the world and date back thousands of years.

In the Roman Era, their road signs were carved into the stone, giving directions and locations. The Egyptians also carved rules and routes into rocks.

The word sign was derived from the French enseigne.

As humans evolved, it became necessary to advertise their businesses and routes. In England, King Richard II made a bill requiring that taverns have signs on their buildings, and if they failed to comply, they would forfeit their ale.

Early signs were elaborate and ornate and gradually the signs had to be fixed against the walls.

Signs and Advertising

Before long, advancements in materials, production, and plastics would make signs more affordable to businesses. Some of the first signs were wood, but weather and age had its effect on them, and tin signs began to appear. Soon even tin wore out, and now steel signs began to appear.

Improvements were continually being made, and in 1910 neon signs were invented. The graphics were imaginative, especially when outdoor signs began to appear. With the advent of the automobile outdoor signs and advertising had to be larger so the passing automobiles could see it while driving by.

Today, the outdoor advertising sign has a standard size of 14 ft by 48 feet. With new technology, digital advertising makes outdoor advertising unique.

Examples of Vintage Tin and Steel Signs

Borden's Milk Tin Sign
Borden's Milk Tin Sign
Harley Garage Tin Sign
Harley Garage Tin Sign
Kodak Film Steel Sign
Kodak Film Steel Sign
Indian Motorcycle Steel Sign
Indian Motorcycle Steel Sign

Road Signs

In America, there are 164,000 miles of highway and over four million public roads, making it necessary to direct traffic and guide motorists on which way to go.

In 1899, the American Automobile Association began the task of signing the roads for the public. Then, in 1905, the Buffalo Auto Club took the responsibility of signing New York State.

In 1915, Detroit, Michigan, installed the first Stop Sign. In 1954, the colors of the Stop Sign changed from black on yellow to white on red. The first traffic light was installed in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Perhaps next, signs and advertising will be using holograms. It would not be surprising the way signs and advertising has advanced from the dark ages.

We have come so far from the early tin and carved signs it's hard to imagine where we will be in 50 or even 100 years from now!

American Sign Museum

Frisch's Big Boy
Frisch's Big Boy | Source
Neon Signs
Neon Signs | Source
American Sign Museum
American Sign Museum | Source
Neon Advertising Signs
Neon Advertising Signs

The American Sign Museum, Cincinnati,Ohio

The American Sign Museum is located at 1330Monmouth Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio. Their contact number is 513-701-2183. Although presently closed due to coronavirus, please check for the reopening.

Tod Swormstedt spent 26 years on the staff of the Signs of the Times magazine. Then, in 1999 he founded the American Sign Museum. It opened to the public in 2005 and soon outgrew its location. The new home was opened in 2012. The museum covers 20,000 square feet and is home to thousands of vintage signs. Tod believes in preserving the history of all signs and advertising memorabilia.

Vintage Advertising Signs

Shell Motor Oil
Shell Motor Oil
Hills Brothers Coffee
Hills Brothers Coffee
Red Goose Shoes
Red Goose Shoes

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