American Sign Museum1330 Monmouth Ave
Cincinnati , OH 45225
513-541-6366 | https://www.americansignmuseum.org/
History of the American Sign Museum
With a collection of more than 3800 signs, the American Sign Museum is the largest public museum dedicated to signs in the United States.
The American Sign Museum first opened in 1999 as the National Signs of the Times Museum. It was founded by Tod Swormstedt, former editor of Signs of the Times magazine. What began as a self-proclaimed “mid-life crisis project” grew with donations from Swormstedt’s family and from others in the signage industry. In 2005, the museum became the American Sign Museum and seven years later opened in its current location in the Camp Washington neighborhood of Cincinnati. Also located in the museum’s building is Neonworks of Cincinnati, which offers live demonstrations on the restoration of neon signs.
The collection includes nearly 100 years of signage and a guided tour through the American Sign Museum is a journey through time. Beginning with wooden signs from the nineteenth century that were geared toward largely illiterate populations, through the advent of the lightbulb, neon, and eventually plastic, the American Sign Museum interprets an often-overlooked part of our culture. A variety of sign making techniques and designs are preserved in the museum, alongside the preservation of the signs themselves. Some signs remain in their original shipping crates, while others have their own stories to tell, such as a revolving sign with a bullet hole.
A display titled "Signs on Main Street" captures a mid-century feel by recreating a typical “Main Street Any-Town USA.” This portion of the Museum features a street lined with shop windows full of sign-related artifacts. This exhibit gives visitors an idea of how the historic signs would have been displayed.
Notes for Travelers
The museum is visually stunning. The signs themselves are works of art that are so fun to see. However, aside from being aesthetically interesting, the American Sign Museum’s extensive collection interprets over 100 years of history through a unique lens. Each sign tells its own story as it reflects a specific time period, style, location, and the interest of the person who owned it. Signage is so heavily integrated into our daily lives that is often neglected or unnoticed, but there is much to be learned from the contributions of the sign industry to our society.