The American Sign Museum, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, was founded in 1999 to inform and educate the general public, as well as business and special interest groups, of the history of the sign industry and its significant contribution to commerce and the American landscape.
The purpose of the American Sign Museum is to preserve, archive, and display a historical collection of signs in their many types and forms. The museum also documents and surveys the products and equipment used in the design and manufacture of signs, and offers biographical information of the people who have contributed to the sign industry.
The idea for the American Sign Museum came from Tod Swormstedt, former publisher and editor of Signs of the Times magazine, a publication which has continually served the sign industry since 1906. Swormstedt approached the publishers of Signs of the Times with the idea for the museum in August 1998.
The museum is housed in the Essex Studios building and features four indoor areas, including an 800-square-foot lobby, a 3,800-square-foot display area, an 1,100-square-foot sign restoration shop, and an 800-square-foot storage room for the overflow of restored signs.
The display area has three main sections: a history timeline of the sign industry, told through the evolution of three-dimensional letters; "Signs on Main Street," which is a life-size sampling of vintage storefronts that serve as backdrops for displaying vintage signs and sign-related objects; and a sign gallery of free-standing and hanging/projecting signs arranged by historical era.
The Museum's collection is always growing and as of July 2004, numbered more than 2,500 objects, including 120 signs, 500 books and catalogs, and 1,200 photos. The majority of these are catalogued by type of item and decade of vintage. In addition, the museum boasts an archive of nearly 1,800 copies of Signs of the Times magazines dating from 1914 to 1989. More than 400 are pre-1950s era issues also are archived.
A major part of the museum's budget is allocated to acquisitions and restoration of signs. However, a large percentage of the museum's collection has been donated by individuals, as well as sign companies, sign supply distributors, and sign product manufacturers.