Early Highway Signs Created New Fonts

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In this post, we are looking at one of the first hand painted highway guide signs in Oregon. Thinking about how roadside information was understood and practiced before the modern signs we see now can be hard to comprehend. It seems like our generation has always had the luxury of the modern day highway sign. 

In class we learn that images communicated important data in the past (and still), particularly when paired with texts. In these first signs, we see the text in the premise of city and highway numbers, and the images being the arrows pointing left and right. 

These highway signs have contributed to Graphic Design history by creating some of our first fonts. In 1927, The American Association of State Highway Officials (now AASHTO) published their first highway manual, adopting upper case, block letters for guide and regulatory signs. They created 6 different series, thin to thick in this capital letter typeface, with series E, remaining the standard for over 5 decades. As quoted by Clearview Highway, “while technological advancements were applied to sign production processes, [the] lettering style saw little change.”

Handpainted Highway Sign
Handpainted Highway Sign