Step Into Stonehouse History

Our Founder- J.W. Stonehouse

In 1863, the year Stonehouse Signs was founded, a seed was planted that would change workplace safety forever.  That’s over 150 years of a rich and storied history of a company whose lasting contributions in the early years of the industrial safety movement can be measured in number of lives saved. 

We wanted to give you a glimpse into the beginnings of Stonehouse Signs, and how our founder, J.W. Stonehouse, created the company that is still an industry leader in 2011.



What other things were happening in 1863? 

  • Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation during the second year of the American Civil War, making the abolition of slavery in the confederate states an official war goal.
  • President Lincoln proclaims a national Thanksgiving (United States) day to be celebrated the final Thursday in November.
  • Arizona and Idaho become United States territories.
  • The Battle of Gettysburg marks the height of the American Civil War.


1863: The BeginningWilliam Stonehouse

William Stonehouse opened a sign shop in Chicago and taught his son, James Wesley Stonehouse (known throughout his life as J.W.), the art of gold leaf lettering on store front windows for banks, offices, and other commercial businesses.


1904: Setting Up Shop

J.W. In Front Of His Shop

J.W. moved west with the gold mining boom and set up shop in Douglas, Arizona, proudly advertising, “J.W. Stonehouse, Painter of Good Signs, Pictures and Framing.”


1910: The Birth of the Accident Prevention Sign

After following the mining boom from place to place, J.W. moved to the Victor-Cripple Creek region of Colorado.  It was here that the accident prevention sign business was born.

J.W. In A Colorado Mine Inspecting His SignAs you might gather, mining was one of the most dangerous industries to work in during this time. 

Miners used bell signals to control the hoists that raised and lowered men and material in the mine shafts. 

Since these signals varied by location and state, there were numerous accidents due to miners getting confused about what signal defined what action.

J.W. saw a need for increased safety and communication to protect the workers.  He went to the Colorado Bureau of Mines and lobbied for standardized bell signals for all mines in Colorado.

CoJ.W. Stonehouse's Original Mine Bell Signal Signnfident that his logic would be acted on, J.W. printed standardized bell signal signs, which would help reduce accidents and injuries. 

When the mining bureau enacted the standard, he was ready to sell from inventory his silk screen printed signs, which provided an easy way for the mine operators to comply with the new regulations.

J.W.’s interest in worker safety and his Colorado State Code of Mine Bell Signals, arguably the first standardized industrial safety sign, resulted in the creation of the accident prevention sign industry.  As the concept of “workplace safety” was beginning to take hold in America, the contributions of J.W. Stonehouse and Stonehouse Signs were beginning to be felt in Colorado and across the nation.


1913: Stonehouse Signs Helps Found the National Safety Council

On October 13, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois, the delegates from the First Cooperative Safety Congress (which was formed in 1912) created the National Council for Industrial Safety, a permanent body devoted to the promotion of safety in U.S. industry. 

In 1914, the name of the organization was changed to National Safety Council to reflect a broader focus including traffic safety and other non-industrial safety issues.  Stonehouse Signs is recognized as one of 5 founding companies and a charter member of the National Safety Council.

The National Safety Council’s mission is to "save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads through leadership, research, education, and advocacy."


1913: A Move to Denver and the Mission to Standardize Safety Communication

J.W. then moved to Denver, and he never lost his concern for safety and standardization.  His efforts resulted in the creation of the “Danger”, “Caution” and “Notice” panels that are in widespread use today.  J.W.’s tables, sizes, colors and proportions set the standard for the safety sign industry. 

In 1941, his designs (shown below) became part of the American Standards and Specifications for Industrial Accident Prevention Signs: Z35.1 - 1941.  An updated version of the standard, ANSI Z35.1 – 1968, was incorporated by reference into the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970.  Today, J.W.’s header designs are commonly referred to as “OSHA signs.”

Original 'OSHA Signs' From 1913


1914:  Incorporation and Expansion

With the establishment of the income tax in 1914, J.W. formed a corporation named The Stonehouse Steel Sign Company.  During this first year, J.W. obtained many copyrights on various designs and publications, and received patents on several sign mounting systems. 

1914 was the first time the Stonehouse Steel Sign Company exhibited at the National Safety Council exhibition.  Stonehouse has been exhibiting at this venue every year since 1924.


1920: The Move to 9th and Larimer

The Stonehouse Steel Sign Company's New LocationIn 1920, Stonehouse bought the property at 9th and Larimer in Denver, Colorado, which would be its home for the next 48 years. 

During this time, Stonehouse continued to grow, taking the lead in safety sign production, and soon became the world’s largest producer of accident prevention and safety signs.


1926: Official Name Change

On April 20, 1926, the Stonehouse Steel Sign Company officially changed its name to Stonehouse Signs Incorporated.

So there it is - the early years of Stonehouse Signs.  For an historical timeline through the present day, please visit our History Page.  For more information on J.W. Stonehouse, view our Tribute to J.W. Stonehouse.

Request A Quote

Request a quote for your product needs.
Request a Quote Now - Stonehouse Signs

Connect With Us!

Email -
Phone - 1-817-640-0992