Advertising signs date back to the ancient world. Archeologists have discovered signs that used symbols to indicate certain types of businesses, since most people could not read. Later, owners hung tools outside to describe their businesses. In 14th century England, a law was passed requiring taverns to hang a sign, and by the 18th century, most businesses had adopted the practice. These signs were usually made of painted wood and many were quite artistic. In the 19th century, lighted signs were developed, first using gas, and then electricity.
While wooden signs were still used in the 1800s, metal ones were becoming more common. The era also saw increasing consumerism and literacy, giving rise to the growth of brand advertising. Soon mass-produced metal signs were hanging both inside and outside businesses. The 1920s brought neon signs, but by the 1950s, plastic and vinyl signs became the norm. Towards the end of the 20th century, digital signs, beginning with scrolling marquees, entered the market. Today’s signs often make use of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology and Augmented Reality, a combination of words and video.
What will the signs of the future be like? Industry experts predict they will be interactive, perhaps featuring holograms! But the basic purpose of advertising signs remains the same – to attract and inform. Look at the featured signs. Can you guess their era? Clues include sign materials and lettering style. Take a walk by the museum’s windows to see some of the signs in-person. Or, when the museum reopens, join us inside for more information on the history of Marshall County businesses and organizations.