In the 1970s, the MUTCD began a national effort to help foreign visitors navigate the United States by adopting a color-coded sign system similar to Europe’s. Chicago adopted the white-on-green street signs as part of that effort in 1975.
|Many Chicagoans remember the yellow street signs that Chicago used.|
The guidelines recommended phasing out words on signs where possible and relying instead on universally understood symbols, like a red circle broken by a white line to indicate “Do Not Enter.” Under that scheme, the color symbols for guidance were green and white – so “reflectorized” white-on-green street name signs became the new standard.
There was no official system in place during the city’s early years, making wayfinding pretty tough in our fast growing city. A public call for street identification signs began around the turn of the 20th century, when street names were often simply painted onto poles at neighborhood corners (if they were indicated at all).
|Later, black-and-white or brown-and-white signs appeared|
around the city, particularly downtown.
Not long after the war ended, the city began to examine new sign designs, testing out various lettering styles in the Loop. Once a style was settled upon, Chicago ordered new porcelain-coated steel street signs, again in the black-on-yellow color scheme, beginning in 1950. Over the next few years the signs were installed, beginning at the city’s edges and working their way into the Loop. This time, rather than attaching the signs to the poles with straps that would rust and break, the signs were secured with bolts going into the poles.
|In my personal collection, West Arthur Avenue, the street I grew up on.|
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.