The 1920s – A Time of Rapid Change in Signs and Advertising

World War I

World War I


As head of MLE Merchandising & Sign Solutions, Inc., Mike Loftus guides a firm focused on bringing “brandvironments” from conception to reality. He and the MLE team offer a full range of signage production and installation services, with an emphasis on quality projects completed on tight schedules. Mike Loftus has a strong interest in the history of signs and graphics, from 20th-century roots to the leading edge of contemporary design.

One of the eras of innovation in branding was the postwar era following World War I, as prosperity birthed a robust consumer economy. Money flowed toward a variety of new leisure pursuits, from automobiles to movies. The advertising sphere reflected a world of short-lived fads, with jazz music and associated scenes of fun and frivolity one of the most enduring images of the age.

One unique area of growth was in cinematic advertising, with hand-painted movie poster art becoming ubiquitous at theaters, the new nexus of social life in an increasingly mobile society. Another was fashion. As jazz-inflected flapper wear took off, European haute couture also came to the fore. With the lines between high and low culture blurred, a hybrid of casual comfort and strict dress codes predominated in print advertising.

The automobile also had a profound effect on American advertising, through the advent of the roadside billboard as a new norm. This enlarged site-specific advertising went significantly beyond the storefront and rooftop signs, as well as building murals, that had previously predominated.