Works Progress Administration (WPA) logo

Posters of the WPA

Works Progress Administration (WPA) logoBack in the day (1935 to be precise), President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an enormous government program aimed at providing employment for millions of Americans affected by the Great Depression.

The legacy of the WPA is a host of public works (bridges, roads, etc.) and cultural projects. That’s all well and good obviously, but what I really care about are the cool posters designed to promote many of the WPA’s programs.

All of these images and hundreds more are available as part of the Library of Congress’s “Posters of the WPA” collection. I’ve simply picked what I feel are some of the most visually appealing and added my usual pithy commentary. As you’ll see, these great images are very much of their time and most display an Art Deco sensibility that I love (at least that’s what I think the style is).

This promo for adult education classes in Ohio is so delightfully absurd, it’s hard to believe it came from a government program. “Get A-Head!” (artist unknown), c. 1936-1941

For those not familiar with war propaganda of days gone by, this is typical of many images from World War II (and World War I for that matter). In order to convey just how evil the enemy was, racial stereotypes and slurs were often employed. I’m not sure what the implied threat is here, however, as “the Jap” seems to have conquered the relatively unimportant North Pole. — “Salvage Scrap to Blast the Jap” by Phil von Phul, c. 1940-41

I have no idea if the Sioux City Camera Club’s exhibition was any good, but their poster definitely is great. — Sioux City Camera Club exhibition (artist unknown), c. 1936-39.

Relatively speaking, automobiles were fairly new in the 1930s. Even so, I sincerely hope that drivers did not have to be specifically instructed to not kill animals with their cars. As sad as that may be, this is a very eye-catching, albeit ominous, poster. — “Don’t Kill Out Wild Life” by John Wagner, c. 1936-40

One thing I’m sure of is that it probably took all of three days after the first car rolled out before some jackass decided to get plastered and go for a ride. So it makes sense for this anti-drunk driving ad to warn against that. Or against putting whiskey in your gas tank. No, I’m pretty sure this is about drinking and driving. I do dig the vintage gas pump. — “Don’t Mix ‘Em” (artist unknown), c. 1936-37

I’ve heard them called outhouses, crappers, and dunnys, but I’ve never heard them called “sanitary units.” Nevertheless, my home does feel incomplete without one.“Your Home Is Not Complete Without a Sanitary Unit” (artist unknown), c. 1936-41

In the dark days before television and video games, children apparently read for pleasure. I know, sick. Still, the minimalist design and nice blue/black/orange color scheme does make the prospect more appealing. — “October’s ‘Bright Blue Weather’ — A Good Time to Read!”  by Albert M. Bender, c. 1936-40

Part of what makes a lot of the imagery of this period so striking is the abundance of clean lines and basic shapes. Looking at this poster I not only feel I should keep my teeth clean, but that it is my duty as a citizen to do so. After all, the Nazis are looming on the horizon and you can’t fight them if you’re gumming K-rations. — “Keep Your Teeth Clean” (artist unknown), c. 1936-38

Another design element found in images of this time period is the repetition of a single object. But the same clean design applies to this deceptively simple poster. That font is also something I’d love to see more of. — “Foreign Trade Zone” by Jack Rivolta, 1937

Or he may just be dull after all. On the upside, he is a snappy dresser. — “John Is Not Really Dull” (artist unknown), c. 1936-37.

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Burger King logo, 1969-1994

No-Go Logos

I’ve always considered myself an armchair graphic designer, particularly when it comes to logos. A logo is a really easy and effective way to convey an image about your business/club/whatever. And while I’m all for modern styling, logos are one area where I’m old-fashioned. Too often, companies will update their logo for seemingly no good reason, and it’s usually for the worse. So let’s take a look at a sampling of logos and emblems, both old and new, and see if my stodgy views are justified.

Burger King

The original BK logo was simple, yet effective. A nice, quirky little font and the bun halves got the point across. Not as iconic as the golden arches, but still good.

Burger King logo, 1969-1994

Burger King logo, 1969-1994

The font on the logo was made blander in 1994, then five years later BK unveiled a SLAMMIN’ new look:

New Burger King logo (1999 - present)

Burger King logo (1999 – present)

Yeah, it’s the same basic idea, but what’s the point? For some reason the buns are shiny now (a bit odd). And everything was slanted, a sure way to show that the Whopper is now totally in your face! Oh well, at least they’ve atoned for their unnecessarily slick image with their Creepy King ad campaign.

Winner — Old logo.


Readers outside the U.S. Northeast may not know of ShopRite, but it’s your basic grocery store chain. Originally founded in 1946 as Wakefern Foods, ShopRite arrived on the scene in 1951. Just like BK, their classic logo (introduced in 1974) is simple, clean, and visually appealing. I’m not sure what typeface is being used but I like it. And the shopping cart full of cannonballs tells me I might run into either Wile E. Coyote or the top-hat guy from Stratego when I’m shopping, so I like that right off the bat.

ShopRite logo (1974 - 2002)

ShopRite logo (1974 – 2002)

But of course, this wasn’t good enough, so in 2003 this already dated new look was unveiled:

ShopRite logo (2002 - present)

ShopRite logo (2002 – present)

OK, first off the new typeface sucks. The old one conveyed a sense of gravitas and authority. When you shop here you shop RITE, dammit! The new one kind of suggests, “Hey, if you’re not too busy later, maybe you might wanna come here and look around? Maybe? If not, that’s OK too.” Just too weak and ineffectual. The shopping cart is pretty much the same, except they’ve made a point to show that they sell more than one shape of grocery now. But watch out, pick the wrong melon and your cart might just EXPLODE with savings at any moment!

Winner — Old logo.


The Plymouth brand was introduced by Chrysler in 1928, and its logo went through a number of changes over the years. The original one represented the Mayflower, which as we all know came to symbolize European hegemony over the Western Hemisphere. But on the car, it looked pretty good:

1947 Plymouth ship logo ornament

1947 Plymouth ship logo ornament

1947 Plymouth logo badge

1947 Plymouth logo badge

The badge is neat enough, but how sweet is it having a toy ship in plastic on the hood?!? But starting in the early 1960, all Chrysler makes were re-branded with the so-called “Pentastar” logo:

Plymouth "pentastar" logo

Plymouth “pentastar” logo

A bit understated, but it certainly became well-known enough, so I suppose it was effective. However, as Plymouth’s fortunes faded over a number of years they went retro and brought back the Mayflower. Just in the wimpiest way possible:

Plymouth sailboat logo

Plymouth sailboat logo

That right there is a logo bad enough to kill a company, and that’s exactly what happened. The last Plymouth rolled off the assembly line in 2001 and had to bear the shame of displaying what looked more like a crappy model sailboat than one of the most famous vessels in history.

Winner — The original logos, or even the pentastar replacement.

Denver Broncos

Over the past 15 years or so, more bad logo changes have been made in the world of sports than in any other. For too many teams, “tradition” equals “low sales,” and so every few years it seems another team kicks sand in the face of its past and rolls out a ghastly new look.

One of the worst offenders is the Denver Broncos. From 1962 until 1997, they sported one of the best logos in the NFL:

Denver Broncos Logo (1968 - 1992)

Denver Broncos logo (1968 – 1992)

I’m a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan, and even I can admit that this is a damn cool logo. I mean, how awesome is a horse that shoots a laser blast from its snout? (That is a laser, right?)

But then in 1997, the Broncos sold their soul to Nike and unleashed this monstrosity:

Denver Broncos Logo (1997 - present)

Denver Broncos logo (1997 – present)

The oh-so subtle incorporation of the Nike swoosh is bad enough, but the fact that it looks like something an Arena Football League team would use is even worse. This is design-by-committee at its soulless worst. And while fans will point out the fact that the team won the Super Bowl the year they adopted this garbage, they know it’s coincidence and nothing else.

Winner — Do you even have to ask?

New England Patriots

While not nearly as awful as the Broncos, the New England Patriots went from classic to craptastic. After ditching their first design (a tricorner hat), they busted out good ol’ Pat Patriot:

New England Patriots Logo (1971 - 1992)

New England Patriots logo (1971 – 1992)

Sure, Pat has a rather sinister look on his face for a guy wearing stockings, but it sure was the most distinctive logo in the NFL (and AFL before that). But according to the Wikipedia article on the Patriots, the logo was too busy and therefore too expensive to reproduce and so they ditched it. I’m sure they saved a ton with the new design, but at what cost?

New England Patriots Logo (1993 - 1999)

New England Patriots logo (1993 – 1999)

Many fans dubbed the new logo “Flying Elvis,” but I dub it “Flying Crap.” This looks more like a logo for an insurance company than a football team. Sure it’s reliable and can produce an actuarial table like no one’s business, but it doesn’t belong on a football field. Oh well, it gives me one more reason to hate the Pats I guess.

Winner — Pat Patriot in a New England minute.

I could devote a whole site to bad logo choices, but I think one post is enough for now. But by all means let’s hear your suggestions! I promise to think about giving you credit if I post a followup.

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View-Master’s 1957 New Jersey – 5 of 7

This is a shot of the RCA Laboratories building in Camden, NJ. I know there’s a lot of history for RCA and this particular location, but to be perfectly honest I can’t stop focusing on the parking lot full of sweet, sweet cars. Of particular note is that lovely red and white Buick wagon in the foreground. Sadly, my knowledge of old cars (or new cars for that matter) is lacking so I can’t really tell what other models are in this picture. Any guesses?

RCA Laboratories, Camden 1957