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The American Sign Museum – A Top Rated Retro Road Trip Must Visit! Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati, OH

Posted on: May 6, 2011



Ever been someplace so cool, so inspiring, so overwhelmingly awesome, that you knew your description of it would never adequately convey the sheer fabulosity of it? Well that’s why I have waited so long to try and write about The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, OH. The museum, and founder Tod Swormstedt are just too cool for words, but I’ll try.

However lacking my prose may be – the short version is, you must visit this place!

Vintage Neon Signs(Here’s a link to our earlier post with our video sneak peek of The American Sign Museum
where you can see the above signs all flashing and animated!)

Opened in Spring 2005, and a a not-for-profit 501(C) (3) corporation,the American Sign Museum’s mission is:

“To inform and educate the general public, as well as business and special interest groups, about the history of the sign industry and its significant contribution to commerce and the American landscape.”

But that does not even begin to convey the colorful, fun, interesting place the museum is – though the giant genie out front gives a hint that you’re in the right place!

American Sign Museum GenieAnd,if that welcome from the genie wasn’t encouragement enough, look at what we spied when we arrived for our private tour and looked into the main museum entrance- guess we were expected!

Sign Museum EntranceDidn’t I say that the museum’s founder  Tod Swormstedt, was cool? What a wonderful touch, especially after our long hours on the road. We had made arrangements to tour the museum on an off day, and thank Tod for his hospitality and flexibility in working with our schedule.

You too can make an appointment for a personal tour of the Sign Museum most anytime – days, evenings, weekdays, or weekends – just call or email to arrange it (depending on Tod’s availability of course). The museum’s regular hours are Saturday from 10-4, with guided tours every 2 hours.

But, you may ask, what is a sign museum all about?

In thinking about it I think the American Sign Museum is part museum, part endangered sanctuary.
Vintage Neon Signs 2
Much like wild animals, the best place for signs is in their natural habitat – cheefully lighting the side of the road or storefront,  enticing people to visit, enter, learn.  Sometimes this habitat is disrupted, however; businesses close, roads get moved or widened – and the sign no longer has a home.

So instead of being left to rot or worse yet, destroyed because there’s no space for them, some signs that are lucky enough to be saved and relocated to the American Sign Museum.
Vintage Neon Signs 5Like a animals in a wild animal sanctuary or zoo, the lucky saved signs are transplanted from their original environment, and given a safe home where people can come and admire them and learn more about their importance. Once visitors leave the zoo/sign museum/sanctuary they hopefully realize how important the signs are that are still out “in the wild” and can do what they can to keep them in their natural habitat.

Vintage Bowling SignSo if I am to continue with my analogy, I reckon we’d be calling Sign Museum founder Tod Swormstedt a big game hunter and zoo keeper all rolled into one. He is a wealth of information about every single aspect of the history of signs, and when you tour the museum you will learn so much about how their evolution echoes the changes in American society and technology. The History of SignsIt’s a really interesting way to look at the history of our country, because you’re almost guaranteed to find something that relates to your own personal history along the way.

Howard Johnson's Pieman Sign
This Howard Johnson’s sign for example, brings me back to my childhood in Massachusetts, where there was a Hojo’s just over the highway from us. And on the Mass Pike on the way home from Girl Scout Camp, and ice cream sundaes, fried clam strips, mocha frappes with grammy and more. See how some stinker graffitti-ed it (and the Arby’s hat to the right?). Well now the sign is in good hands at the Museum where the hopes are to restore it to its original beauty for all to enjoy.

Some of you may notice that the above picture looks to be in a different background than the previous ones – and if you’re one of those observant folks- you get a gold star. Tod was generous with his time and actually gave us a sneak peek of the bigger and better future location of the American Sign Museum – located in a former parachute factory!

Future Home of the American Sign MuseumHoping to open up in early 2012, it’s a massive space where some of the grand oversized signs in the collection can be displayed.
Vintage Sign Collection 2(Notice the broom to the right to get a sense of scale-!)

There will also be a neon workshop where visitors can observe signmakers creating and re-creating neon for signs in the collection:

Neon Sign Collection 2

And, much like the current location of the museum, the space will be available to rent for parties, events, meetings, filming, photo shoots, you name it! Who wouldn’t want to pose with some of these great signs as a backdrop?

You can read more about the new, permanent location for The American Sign Museum right here.

Zip's Diner Eat Sign Neon(Hey! It’s another familiar face from New England – Zip’s Diner in Dayville Connecticut!)

Hopefully if you’ve gotten this far you’re thinking that The American Sign Museum is a pretty cool place, but in case you haven’t been quite convinced, here’s a video where you can hear more about the museum and see some of the collection we didn’t show. I had to save some things for you to see in real life when you visit, didn’t I?

The American Sign Museum – New Location opened June 2012!!

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