Before the invention of signs, tourists had no way of telling streets apart and were forced to assume every building was a Denny’s. Embrace advancements in identification with today’s Groupon: for $30, you get two adult admissions, a coffee-table book, and a T-shirt at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati (up to a $60 value).
The American Sign Museum dazzles peepers with its staggering collection of nearly 3,000 signs and sign-related objects. Admission for two (a $20 value; children under 12 are free) grants curious excursionists, postmodern art-lovers, and knowledge-thirsty bounty hunters a personally guided tour through a century’s worth of clearly labeled exhibits, including spinning Sputnik-like signs, opulent gilded specimens, and the samples used by salespeople. Witness scientific signage with a “changeable” neon sign that runs on radio waves, or surf through a sense-sating sea of sign-making tools, photographs, models, and artwork. Founder Tod Swormstedt leads most tours, doling out generous portions of knowledge on various signs’ histories and contributions to the American landscape.
With today’s deal, each visit is augmented by an anecdote-stirring T-shirt (up to a $20 value) and a rare, out-of-print softcover copy of The New Let There Be Neon (a $20 value), packed with full-color photos and neonological insights. The museum is only open on Saturdays, and guided tours begin at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.
American Sign Museum
During a self-proclaimed midlife crisis, Tod Swormstedt became the voice for some silent witnesses to American history: signs. The former editor and publisher of Signs of the Times magazine was more than familiar with the subject, and he wanted to give this particular slice of Americana a permanent tribute. He opened American Sign Museum in 1999 and filled it with nearly 4,000 books, photos, and, of course, lots and lots of signs.
- Size: more than 19,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space (with 20,000 more on the way), featuring 28-foot ceilings for larger signs
- Eye Catcher: a glowing McDonald's sign from 1963—six years before NASA landed a cheeseburger on the moon
- Permanent Mainstay: the neon and hand-painted signs of Main Street, which recreates storefronts from decades past
- Hidden Gem: the grizzly-looking sign from bygone supermarket chain Big Bear—which someone discovered while mowing grass
- Don't Miss: the neon shop, open weekdays, where workers create new signs and chat with visitors
- From the Press: For a glance inside the museum, check out the many video interviews here.