All About the J.W. Stonehouse Font

In the late 1920s, J.W. Stonehouse began producing his safety signs in a special font he created.  J.W. developed the font to be both effective and visually appealing on his safety sign products, which at the time were made to communicate the mining bell alarm system to coal miners. Why did J.W. create a new font for his sign instead of using one that was readily available? Jeff Stone, great-grandnephew of J.W. Stonehouse and current company CFO and VP of Operations, explains:

J.W. Stonehouse Font in Use - Danger Look Out For The Cars Sign Circa Mid 1940s

"Your astute powers of observation have allowed you to verbalize what many people only sense subconsciously -- the unique look of a Stonehouse safety sign. 

The typeface was originally created by J.W. Stonehouse, the son of the Stonehouse Signs founder. J.W. developed an artistic eye for layout and lettering as an itinerant sign painter in the late 1800s. We have named the typeface "J.W. Stonehouse" after its creator. The true original version is still in use today by Stonehouse Signs. It is not commercially available. 

Over the years, others have used similar type styles. Some even copied J.W.'s characteristic "foot" on the letter "R". The only truly accurate version of the J.W. Stonehouse typeface is the version used by Stonehouse Signs, Inc. 

The J.W. Stonehouse typeface began to surface around 1928, as evidenced in our Catalog #3. Many of the new signs added to this publication used "J.W. Stonehouse." Prior to this, draftsmen at Stonehouse Signs used a typeface with "clipped corners" instead of arcs on the rounded letters. Catalog #1, printed in 1919, shows either the "clipped corner" typeface or the printer's standard typeface, with no evidence of "J.W. Stonehouse." Interestingly, the "clipped corner" typeface uses the "foot" on the letter "R," which was carried forward and incorporated into the J.W. Stonehouse typeface. 

In the 1940s, Stonehouse Signs standardized J.W.'s typeface and began using it exclusively. In 1972, Stonehouse Signs became the first sign manufacturing company to use a computer-aided design system with a knife-cutting plotter. The system was built and programmed from scratch by Stonehouse. The new system used the J.W. Stonehouse font, painstakingly recreated in computerized form. This first generation computer font even used the original kerning tables." 


Evolution of J.W. Stonehouse Font - Stonehouse Signs

As mentioned above, the Stonehouse font was developed by J.W. Stonehouse in the 1920s. As a trained sign painter, a profession that is half precision and half art, J.W. created the font with both legibility and artistic balance in his mind. The font allows the white areas of the sign to be minimized, letting the important information stand out clearly. It was due to J.W.’s eye for clarity and his creation of visually appealing layouts that lead to his sign designs being adopted by the “American Standards and Specifications for Industrial Accident Prevention Signs: Z35.1” in 1941. Those regulations set the standards for the safety sign industry in its infancy, and continue to influence the sign designs of today. Currently, OSHA standards still reference signs influenced by J.W.’s original layout, and Stonehouse Signs still uses J.W. Stonehouse font on all the standard sign products.

Stonehouse’s current customers also appreciate the layout and font designs of J.W. Stonehouse. Jim Kent is the founder and co-owner of Sundial Wire, a small manufacturing company in Western Massachusetts, and is a Stonehouse Signs customer. He says:

 “I was looking for some warning signs for our new factory (it's a small factory), and I was not happy with the standard signs offered by places like McMaster Carr and Grainger, ULine, etc. I have a background in Art Direction and in fact I have a career as a Hollywood Set Decorator which I still enjoy, so I employed a tool I use often in these cases: Google Image Search. And after scrolling through dozens of the same cookie cutter "Warning Authorized Persons Only" signs, yours stood out like a glowing gem, black on orange, with a very distinctive font, seeming to me very early 20th Century. Bingo! So there you go. I am something of a graphics nut - I love good clean typefaces, good graphic design, and have many books on the subject. I am NOT a graphic designer, and do not pretend to be one. I just think I have a good eye for good design and I am always appreciative of companies that have good design standards - like yours.”

If you would like to see more examples of the Stonehouse font, visit our website at Or contact a Stonehouse Account Manager today to order you safety signs and safety tags. 

Since its founding in 1863, Stonehouse Signs has produced high-quality visual communications solutions for industry and government. The company specializes in customizable products for safety and accident prevention and manufactures a full line of safety signs, facility signs, lockout tags and decals designed for extended outdoor life, harsh environments and demanding applications. For more information call 1-800-533-9914 or visit

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