This week I was watching Chariots of Fire for the first time since the 80’s because, well, I’m trying to work through a queue of almost 500 movies on my instant queue. The film is an Oscar-winning story of the British Olympic track team of 1924. And so when in a scene filmed in a meeting hall exit signs conspicuously appeared behind the actors I thought to myself “Self, there weren’t exit signs in the 1920’s were there?” They seemed out of place. They seem like something that would’ve been legislated into use in the 1970’s. But then again, the signs looked old like maybe they were indeed from the 20’s. I thought to myself that they should’ve removed those signs for the filming if they weren’t historically accurate.
It wasn’t a big deal, just one of those many things that goes through your mind as you watch a movie. But then, today, Alaskan Eyes posted this photo of Johnny Cash circa the late 1950’s and there behind Johnny is another exit sign. So if they were in use in the 50’s why not the 20’s?
What is the history of exit signs? When, where, and why did exit signs begin to be implemented. How and why did they become standardized into the iconic sign that we now know? The Johnny Cash photo shows that standardized sign in use in the 50’s and, assuming that the Chariots of Fire signs are historically accurate, the same typography was in use in the 20’s—though the signs were black. Wikipedia, though having an entry on exit signs, is of surprisingly little help thus far.