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Words on Things
 

The objects around us—transportation artifacts as well as many others—have words on them. We’re so used to this that we hardly even notice. But take a closer look at what objects say, and why.

Member's ribbon
They can identify a person ...
... or a thing.

Capital Traction Co. electric streetcar, 1898
Here the number identifies the vehicle; the first line of text, the route; the second line, the owner and operator.

Erie Canal commemorative plate
Words can provide information ...
Detail of lawnmower's safety warning
... or a warning ...
Dodge school bus
... or a brand name.

Some words are all about branding ...

Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s
Business card for Andrew Wonder, fishmonger, Washington, D.C., 1890s
Kirk-Latty Manufacturing Company decal

Some about location and direction ...

Ethel May Krockenberger
Mile marker, Bistrow, Oklahoma
Route marker for US 66 in Oklahoma

Some speak to identity ...

Chicago automobile license
Kansas license plate
Indiana chauffeur's license, 1925
Master-at-Arms badge

And some make a political statement.

Washington, D.C., protest poster, drawn by Sammie Abbott, late 1960s
Washington, D.C., protest poster, drawn by Sammie Abbott, late 1960s
The cargo hook and fist became a symbol of opposition in the 1971 longshoreman's strike.
The cargo hook and fist became a symbol of opposition in the 1971 longshoreman's strike.
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