In the early 1910s, a new technology was coming to the streets of New York City. This, of course, was the automobile. The higher speeds motor vehicles allowed led to an urgent need to revamp street signs in New York City. It was simply too hard to read the existing signs from a car. Thus, New York County (which covered both Manhattan and The Bronx at the time) designed a new style of street sign in the early 1910s.
What they came up with is now referred to as the “humpback” style, thanks to its distinctive shape. These signs were painted by hand, with white text and a dark blue background. The main body of the sign displayed the name of the street the sign was mounted parallel to (facing traffic on the intersecting street). In the “hump” at the top of the sign was the name of the street the sign faced. This allowed motorists to see the name of the street they were currently on. These signs hung from lampposts in a heavy iron bracket. The bracket had two cut-out holes to allow the text to still be seen. This style of sign was a fixture of New York City streets through the 1950s. New advances in technology, however, like reflective sheeting, as well as stricter highway sign standards, consigned the humpback sign to history. They soon disappeared from the streets of New York, replaced with more modern styles, like those seen today.
One of New York City’s most famous streets is Madison Avenue. The street was named after Madison Square, which was itself named after the fourth U.S. president, James Madison. The street is best known as the location of many of New York’s advertising agencies, to the point that “Madison Avenue” is often used as a metonym for the advertising industry in general. Madison Avenue was also featured in the 1984 rom-com Splash. In the film, a mermaid comes onto land in New York City and, seeing the Madison Avenue street sign, chooses the name “Madison” for herself. This led to the name “Madison”, previously almost never used as a first name, becoming widely used; it was the 3rd most popular name for girls in the year 2000.
A classic humpback street sign hasn’t graced Madison Avenue for many decades. That’s why we’ve recreated the humpback sign that appeared at the corner of Madison Avenue and E. 105th Street. Our replica is printed on heavy steel with a glossy, non-reflective finish much like that of the original porcelain. We’ve used photographs of actual surviving signs to accurately recreate the font and layout used on the old humpback signs. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to going back in time and visiting Madison Avenue yourself!
Our Madison Avenue humpback sign is available in two sizes: the 22-inch-long size (just like the real thing), and a scaled-down 16½-inch version. You can also choose from right-facing (mounting holes on the left), left-facing (mounting holes on the right), or double-sided versions. No matter which you pick, we include four mounting holes. There are two on the edge for the traditional lamppost-style mounting, and two between the lines of text for easy mounting to a wall. (Looking for a different classic street sign from New York or any other city? We’d be happy to help with your custom order! Just contact Jake to get started today.)