Character of the Week: Simple Simon and the Pieman

Retro Staff |  2 Comments

Howard Johnson’s Simple Simon and the Pieman


Howard Johnson’s restaurants and motor inns once donned highways all over America.  One could always assume that the large house with the orange roof would be there to serve warm food and provide lodging to weary travelers.

The restaurant chain started out in the early 1920’s as a soda fountain in a corner drugstore owned by Howard Deering Johnson.  After a few years, a number of concession stands offering his famous 28 flavors of ice cream were opened.  Toward the end of the 1920s, the first Howard Johnson’s restaurant opened in Quincy, Massachusetts.  By the end of the 1930’s there were over 100 franchised restaurants along highways on the East coast, and the chain kept growing.

The early design for the restaurants was inspired by the New England Colonial house.  Complete with dormer windows, white siding and turquoise trim; there was also a cupola with a weathervane on top of the large orange roof.

The metal weathervanes were in the shape of a man, a boy, and a dog.  This logo, called “Simple Simon and the Pieman” was created by artist John Alcott in the 1930s.  Besides being on the famous weathervane, the logo adorned the signs, menus, and china of every Howard Johnson’s.

This design also appeared on the entranceway of every Howard Johnson’s restaurant next to the front door.  The logo was a small hanging sculpture crafted out of metal.  To make the logo unique to each restaurant, the name of each town where it resided was also made of metal and hung above the logo.  This was to give a personal touch to every restaurant, regardless of the fact that each restaurant looked similar, if not the same.

The Simple Simon and the Pieman logo was used until the 1970’s, when many restaurants were remodeled.  Both the entranceway signs and the weathervanes were no longer a part of the restaurant’s design.  Nowadays, the weathervanes are collector’s items.  The early ones are very rare and valuable because there aren’t many that survived through World War II.  Many were donated to use as scrap metal for the war effort.

From the 1970’s on, Howard Johnson’s restaurants began to slowly disappear, and are no longer a staple on the American highway.  They have almost been completely phased out of business, with the advent of fast-food restaurants that sprung up in every town and rest stop across the country.

Although the restaurants are mostly gone, Howard Johnson’s can be remembered by the collectibles that survived throughout the years.  Besides the weathervanes, people collect pieces of china tableware, as well as the sculptured signs featuring the “Simple Simon and the Pieman” logo.  If anyone has more information on the meaning of this logo, please comment.  We would love to know more!

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Last updated: Jun 10, 2009
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: HoJo's, Howard Johnson's, Simple Simon