Although we all use the term “tourist” regularly, whether referring to ourselves on holiday or to hordes of vacationers invading our home towns, it is not so common to see signs on modern roadside establishments beckoning specifically to tourists. In contrast, during the 1920s through the 1940s, beginning just after automobiles became ubiquitous among middle class families and highways were being established and improved, the word “tourist” was used to lure burgeoning road traffic into lodging establishments, gift shops, restaurants and dubious roadside attractions all across the country.
Florida, 1941, U.S. National Archives
It is not surprising then, that most of the vintage tourists signs we acquire date from the 1920s-1940s. The framed tourist sign that we have for sale (shown below) was made in the 1920s and came from the Catskills region of New York. It was most likely attached to the top of another sign, as the legs are long enough to hold it aloft, but are not long (or rotted) enough to indicate that they were posted in the ground.
This vintage photo taken in Louisiana shows the technique of layering signs to create the special effect of a place that gives you a lot for your time and money, making it irresistible for a traveler to pass by.
Louisiana, 1940, U.S. National Archives
Since running water, hot water, bathrooms, showers, heat and electricity could not to be taken for granted by tourists, these modern amenities merited special emphasis on road signs, whether layered as multiple signs, or painted all on the same sign.
1938 in Ohio and 1940 in Maryland. U.S. National Archives.
While a lot of vintage tourist signs are simply painted in black and white, the one we are offering has multiple colors – green, ochre, red and black – which is not so common.
The shadowed letters, arched word presentation, and flourish beneath the center indicate that this might have been created by a professional sign painter, although there is no signature.
This sign is also double-sided and was definitely used outdoors, with the side that was presumably more exposed to harsh prevailing winds and driving rain being more weathered.