How Much Do Companies Pay to Get Their Logos on Those Blue Highway Exit Signs?

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When you’re driving down the highway searching desperately for a bathroom and a Big Mac, the appearance of one of those blue exit signs—the ones that advertise food, lodging, and other amenities along highway off-ramps—can seem like a miracle, alerting you to the unexpected appearance of a Taco Bell or the all-important availability of a gas station. But who or what determines which businesses get their logos on those signs?

As usual, it all comes down to money. But how much do businesses have to pay to get their names on those signs? Jalopnik tracked down the rules and regulations that govern those highway signs, and they’re more complicated than you might think.

While the regulations vary from state to state, not every business can slap its logo on what’s called Specific Services Signing. It has to be in a certain category of services, for one—food, pharmacy, gas, camping, etc. Then, there are restrictions on what those businesses have to offer to be eligible. In New Jersey, for instance, regulations require that gas and food establishments be within three miles of the highway, operate 12 to 16 hours a day, and provide public bathrooms and telephones. In Oregon, restaurants must have indoor seating for at least 20 people and serve at least two meals a day, among other qualifications [PDF].

If your business does qualify to erect an exit sign, how much it costs varies based on the location. Some states contract out their programs to private companies like Interstate Logos, which then create and maintain the signage, while other states maintain the signs themselves. In Oregon, permit fees are determined based on daily traffic estimates—heavily trafficked stretches of highway cost $605 per year, per mainline sign, while highways with less than 20,000 drivers passing per day only cost $360 per sign per year [PDF]. In Colorado, a mainline sign costs $750 per direction [PDF]. In Virginia, a single sign can cost as much as $1000 a year [PDF].

Then there’s the cost of manufacturing the logo sign itself to attach to the blue board, which can run several hundred dollars per sign. Washington State’s guidelines estimate that the smallest logo—a 2-by-1-foot sign—can cost between $84 and $530, and a 5-by-3-foot sign can cost between $330 and $530.

Typically, there can only be six logos per mainline sign (meaning the ones that come before the exit ramp), and often there are more businesses vying for signage than there are spaces for logos. In Colorado, logos are rotated in and out annually, while Washington maintains a waiting list; Arizona uses a bidding process, and Michigan [PDF] assigns priority based on the closest proximity to the highway.

But businesses wouldn’t deal with the application process if it wasn’t worth it. Waiting lists to get on the signs can be decades long, and there’s typically low turnover of businesses opting out of the programs (just 1 to 2 percent in Kentucky). Clearly, there are a lot of drivers out there just waiting to be swayed into stopping for fast food.

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Why Are Barns Often Painted Red?

iStock/Ron and Patty Thomas
iStock/Ron and Patty Thomas

Beginning with the earliest American settlements and continuing into the 18th century, most barns weren't painted at all. Early American barn builders took sun exposure, temperature, moisture, wind, and water drainage patterns into account when placing and building barns, and they seasoned the wood (that is, they reduced the moisture content) accordingly. The right type of wood in the right environment held up fine without any paint.

Toward the end of the 1700s, these old-school methods of barn planning and building fell by the wayside. People sought a quicker, easier fix for preserving their barns—a way to coat and seal the wood to protect it from sunlight and moisture damage. Farmers began making their own coating from a mix of linseed oil (a tawny oil derived from the flax seeds), milk, and lime. It dried quickly and lasted a long time, but it didn't really protect the wood from mold and wasn't quite like the "barn red"we know today—it was more of a burnt orange, really.

Turning Red

The problem with mold is that it decays wood and, in large quantities, can pose health risks to people and animals. Rust, it turns out, kills mold and other types of fungi, so farmers began adding ferrous oxide (rusted iron) to the linseed oil mix. A little bit of rust went a long way in protecting the wood, and it gave the barn a nice red hue.

By the late 19th century, mass-produced paints made with chemical pigments became available to most people. Red was the least expensive color, so it remained the most popular for use on barns, except for a brief period when whitewash became cheaper and white barns started popping up. (White barns were also common on dairy farms in some parts of Pennsylvania, central Maryland, and the Shenandoah Valley, possibly because of the color's association with cleanliness and purity.)

Throughout Appalachia (a historically poorer region), many barns went unpainted for lack of money. In the tobacco regions of Kentucky and North Carolina, black and brown barns were the norm, since the dark colors helped heat the barn and cure tobacco.

Today, many barns are still painted the color traditionally used in a given region, with red still dominating the Northeast and Midwest.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This story was updated in 2019.

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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