How Did We Get Here?


First off, let's start by defining what signage actually is. Signage is the combination of any visual communications, be it pictures or verbiage, to display some form of crucial information to a particular audience. The intended use of signs can be for either personal or commercial application. It can also serve decoration, safety, or even branding purposes. This terminology was first popularized around the years 1975 to 1980. It has since grown to a common household name and is utilized everywhere you look. Let's take a quick dive into the history behind the sign industry and see how far it's progressed throughout the years. It's pretty interesting!

Did you know that signs were first created by cavemen? It's true! During the Paleolithic Era (18,000 B.C.), these people first made use of signs through symbolic paintings they created on cave walls. These paintings told a story. While they are primarily thought to have been done with a ritualistic purpose in mind, they do go a step further. These artistic expressions were the start of human communication (A.K.A. signage). Even more astounding is that they still exist. How cool is that!?!


From there, signs have seriously taken off. Symbols began to identify groups of people specifically pertaining to religious affiliations. For example, early Christians utilized a cross or Ichthys which is still recognized to this day. Likewise, Paganism denoted the sun or moon to represent themselves. This practice continued and as the need expanded, well... so did the uses.


Notably, during the span of 3000 B.C. to 500 A.D., the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks took notice and began to implement signs into their lives, as well. Commercial and retail signs were essentially introduced at this time and became a fixture in our way of life. These earliest uses were common around shops and taverns. They were constructed of either stone, wood, leather or terra cotta. More luxurious establishments (ie. bathhouses) took advantage of the more precious (and expensive) materials such as bronze, copper, marble, or the like. Because these earliest signs were present during times when most people were illiterate, symbols were the most easily understood and most identifiable for businesses. This marks the beginning of what we now know as branding.


However, this idea of branding really began to take off during the economic restoration that followed the 12th Century's Dark Ages. Rich craftsmen and merchants who wanted to stand out amongst their competition started to get creative and design their own unique symbols. Here, is where the logo concept got it's footing. Once the realization was made that their individualized symbol allowed their specific product or service to be the most recognizable among their competition, others started to take note and joined in the new fad. The want to differentiate themselves from others was worth while and quickly became popular among many trades. Animals, objects, (as well as heterogenous objects), some combination of whimsy, or even portraits of highly identifiable individuals were soon adopted and became the recognizable logo for these innovative businesses.

While signboards were still an option for traders in the Medieval period, things were soon going to change during the 14th Century. As if on queue, in steps King Richard II of England. The year is 1389 and a new English law has mandated that all landlords are now required to put up signs outside their properties in order to identify themselves. This was the initial start of the widespread use of commercial signage. Throughout this era, Europe took note and implemented similar legislation compelling new laws pertaining to innkeepers and tavern-keepers.

The 16th and 17th Centuries, held their own in sign making. These were the years of charm for the sign world. The greatest vogue in the sign industry occurred at this point. New beginnings and a ever progressive transition were, unknowingly, underway. Posts and metal supports, which purposes were to erect signs from buildings and typically enabled them to hang over the streets, were given a major face lift. Metal working was in high demand.


During this time, elaborately and beautifully worked wrought-iron was crafted to set off the sign and add the absolute most aesthetically pleasing visual as a whole piece. While this artform came at a price, it was still in high demand by those who could afford it. Breathtaking examples of this work survive still to this day and can be seen in both England and continental Europe. Some of the greatest artists of this time created those mesmerizing works of art with metal work and hand painted signs. The influence of this time period is still prevalent and current to this day in age.

These rather large, overhanging exterior signs quickly became the norm and an extremely prominent decorative feature along the streets of London during this time. Unfortunately, with those elaborate signs came unexpected danger and nuisance. Eventually, authorities had no choice but to start regulating the size and placement of these exterior signs. And so, in 1669 (only the first of many to come) a French royal order was put into effect prohibiting excessive size and projection of these elaborately designed signs. Sadly, over time (particularly 1761 in Paris and somewhere around 1762-1773 in London) even more laws were established to mandate that sign boards had to either be completely removed or adhered flat against walls to reduce the dangers that were developing related to these bulky signs. Inevitably, over time, the majority of signs that once existed were survived only by those relating to inns.


However, by this time, every establishment's greatest goal was to have their own unique sign. It was this drive that continued to keep the industry alive despite some desolate looking times. The progression of sign making had transitioned to materials typically consisting of a combination of iron, wood and textile goods. Oddly enough, letters were still very seldom found on signage.

Believe it or not, here is where the coat of arms took off. Noble families began to create their own unique endorsements and badges. The Red Lion and Green Dragon have respectively earned their notoriety for this over time. These symbols became especially popular with pub signs.

Fast forwarding a bit to the 17th and 18th Centuries.... In conjunction with the booming need for signs, along came packaging and labelling (A.K.A. promotional products) with the same logos. However, not all of these logos were legit. The ever increasing false claims of royal endorsements (A.K.A. plagiarism) began to soar and so something had to be done to stop this from happening. In 1840, rules were put into place again but this time pertaining solely to the displaying of royal arms. The hopes were to eliminate fraudulent claims of heraldry. Individuals trying to use any coat of arms had to be granted a Royal Warrant directly from Queen Victoria herself, prior to doing so. Shockingly enough, in her 64 years of reign, she managed to grant a staggering 2,000 plus royal warrants. Sign permits are officially a thing at this point and signage was solidifying it's place in our day to day lives. The need would continue to grow and it was pretty safe to say, by this point in history, signs were here to stay.


…Enter the 18th Century. Outdoor signs were now at the biggest scale and heaviest weight they had ever been thus far. Following Queen Victoria's mindset, Charles II made the decision to eliminate signs suspended over roads in order to reduce the amount of sign related accidents (and yes, that was a thing). This decision unfortunately resulted in the gradual abolition of signage.

Despite his greatest intent, the sign industry managed to prevail! Yay for signs! Numbering houses was standardized during London's early 18th Century. Paris had already initiated this numbering system back in 1512, though. By the close of the century, this practice was practically universal. In 1805, this form of identifying would become officially mandated. Up until this point in time, a large percentage of the population was still mostly illiterate. Because of that, pictures were still the most useful form of identification and so this numbering system had never been implemented until now. This was also a big turning point both for the literacy rate and a major stepping stone in the sign industry.


Fast forward to the 19th Century, and the birth of electric signs was just beginning to pave the way for a whole other generation of innovative signage, marketing, and visual communications. In 1840, the P. T. Barnum Museum in Chicago, was adorned with the first ever gas illuminated sign. While the longevity wasn't the best, being able to stay lite for five hours straight was monumental (literally LOL). The first incandescent bulb type sign was produced in 1881 to read "EDISON. Soon after in 1882, it was relocated to the International Electrical Exposition and put on display. This phase took off among consumers and quickly spread across both America and Europe. New modern forms of signage could be found displayed above businesses like retail stores, banks, and theatres. This new, modernized marquee sign was the greatest thing available at this time. Americans though, are the ones who were credited with the night display and start of electric signs. Quickly merchants took note and realized that the sign industry offered the most effective type of advertising that was out there. I'll tell you a little secret, too... this still holds true today!

From here, the 40's and 50's brought on another economic surge and plastic was introduced into the sign world. Consumers took to this way of production as plastic was abundant, much cheaper, and required little upkeep. This new avenue of sign making didn't replace lighted signs, but instead, was used in conjunction with previous methods to create even more complex signage. By 1960, the most popular type of sign material consisted of acrylic faces. These faces could be displayed either with or without illumination. Other newer versions of plastic signs were soon to follow, including but not limited to, banners, A-frames, and various types of flags. This uprising demand, also sparked the opening of many sign companies beginning in the 1950's.


Today, the sky really is the limit, if the budget will support it. Technology has provided us with the most cutting edge means of marketing and advertising. Digital, electronic, and LED displays are the leading edge when it comes to today's world of visual communications. Of course, these lighted signs have the capability to work 24/7 and are usually built with LED bulbs which save energy, money, and ultimately provides the best lighting overall. While the price tag tends to run pretty steep, the options really are quite impressive. Signs can now have the built-in options to easily change messages, pictures, and even move depending on how they were programmed. These extensively technical signs may look incredible but they do require a rather large team of skilled experts to make them come to life.


For the average consumer though, a scaled down version of this will usually do the trick and more than suffice the needs of the client. Printers, cutters, and materials continue to advance every single year which enables us to produce products with better quality and longer lifespans. To this day, signage is still the most effective way to advertise and spread brand awareness! Thanks to all of the exponential growth and progress signage has gone through, currently, this industry has generated over an estimated $517 billion in revenue for the year 2020. That really is incredible seeing how the first signs were scribbled on walls of cavemen. We sure have come a long way!


Obviously, signs are here to stay and aren't going away anytime soon. While there may be endless ways to build a sign, and just as many materials to choose from, we here at Impact Signs will make sure that when it's all said and done, you're 100% satisfied with the product(s) you purchased. We'll help you design the most effective signage and provide you with options to stay within your budget. If you're interested in driving more traffic to your business, visual communications is definitely the way to go! It offers the best bang for your buck and works around the clock. Give us a call today, and we will get you the most professional and highest quality advertisement that you deserve! We can be reached at (940) 234-7746 or feel free to stop by our store location at 2303 Old Jacksboro Hwy, Wichita Falls, TX 76302. To check out some of our past work, look us up online or you can find us on Facebook and on Instagram. We'll see ya' soon...!


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