Ellis Island Typography

Beyond the amazing first hand accounts of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island as they entered America, the prints and posters from the era are a treasure trove of wonderful design and typography. Here’s a sampling (although the photos don’t do them justice).

railroad map type

Fantastic typography detail from a Southern Pacific rail map. Note how it was important to include “correct” in the title.

Minnesota Poster Type Detail

Detail of the typography from a rail poster advertising land.

Minnesota Land Poster

Poster advertising land in Minnesota. Note the wide variety of typefaces used — not uncommon for the time period. Serifs, sans-serifs, stylized display faces, heavily condensed faces and even extra wide faces at the bottom. Also note the odd kerning in the phrase, “The Great Land Grant”. It might just be the typeface itself as the “GR” letter combo looks weird.

land grant poster in french

Another land grant poster — this time in French. The design of the top half really struck me as innovative and unique. The typography also takes a different track than many of the others using a thin slab serif face liberally and more classic serifs throughout. Note the poor kerning between the “A” and “V” in the word “travers”. It also looks like the poster was run once and then either stamped or re-printed with the agent’s name and info — the type block on the right is misaligned.


This is the logo from my grandfather’s hard hat. It has to be at least 50 years old (the hat at least, a quick search for the company yielded no results). He wasn’t a construction worker by trade, but did surveying for the Ohio turnpike as a summer job when he wasn’t teaching.

hardtop logo

I love the typeface for the “hardtop” text. A nice slab serif — a little wide, a little thin, not too bold, but with enough presence. And that “R” is perfection. If I can find some time, I’ll have to re-create the font from this photo.

Shape and Type

Super P

There’s something at firs odd, but then somehow comforting in this sign. The angled background shape and highly italicized “super” sans-serif typeface contrasting with the old school slab serif “P” with the heavy drop shadow. Plus the white shape being corner cut to match the angle of the black background. It’s all a little bit circus and a little bit modern. It’s a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n roll.

Upper West Side, Manhattan.