Read a 1943 Letter From Gelett Burgess to Mayor La Guardia About Sign Fonts
— John Overholt (@john_overholt) June 30, 2016
City dwellers are often subject to bad typography, but in 1943, artist, author, and humorist Gelett Burgess decided to do something about it. He took the issue up with then-mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and did so in the most writerly way possible: with verse.
The New-York Historical Society recently shared the letter from Burgess, in which he wrote:
WHY IS IT he who paints the signs
On New York’s numbered streets combines
Such Threes and Sixes, Eights and Nines?
For, at a distance, when it’s late,
It’s hard to differentiate
Between a Six, Nine, Three and Eight.
He continued on for 11 stanzas, concluding with:
Oh, Mr. Mayor, be kind! Be wise!
Our street signs please do modernize
With numbers we can recognize!
The complaint letter didn’t go unnoticed, or unanswered. La Guardia wrote back, also in verse, and even referenced Burgess’s 1937 book Look Eleven Years Younger. His seven-stanza response ends with:
A whole new set is what we want,
And meantime, praying on our knees
Our genial government to grant
“A post-war project!” we will cry
And when a fleet of signs appears
The City will look younger by
Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.