EAT Signs and the American Diner
“EAT” signs were used in diners in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Signs like these were also sprinkled along the length of Route 66 and all over the rest of the country in the heyday of the American diner. The popularity of diners and lunch counters peaked in the post-WWII era of the 1950s and is enjoying a resurgence of popularity today.
It stands to reason that the use of single-word signs (many times in all capital letters) developed out of a desire to capture the attention of drivers passing by in their cars. The message had to be short and sweet—sweet enough to entice hungry travelers to stop in and have a bite. Words like “DINER” and “EAT” were a welcome beacon to people on the road, possibly unfamiliar with the area and looking for a place to dine. The diner became known as a place where you could get a delicious, home-style cooked meal at a decent price.
What began as a practical way of advertising roadside diners, in later years served to inspire artists of the Pop generation. Probably the most notable among the artists influenced by diner “EAT” signs is Robert Indiana. His first public commission was for an installment at the New York pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, New York. For this, he created the word “EAT” with 18-foot high letters. (Ironically, the sign, covered in lightbulbs, had to be shut off while on display at the fair as it attracted too many hungry tourists that believed the sign was advertising a place to eat, rather than being a piece of art.)
Indiana is best known for his famous one-word icon, the work titled “LOVE”. First created for a Christmas card for use by the Museum of Modern Art in 1964, this Pop image also appeared on U.S. postage stamps in 1973.
Today, in conjunction with diner tableware and signage, an EAT sign is used to quickly transform home kitchens (in part or entirety) into ’50s era eateries. Many magazines and decorators try to incorporate the one-word slogan into even modern kitchens as a means to promote a sense of nostalgia.
From single signs to individual letters (E A T), there’s a wide variety of the traditional slogan that screams “diner food, right here”. Retro Planet boasts more than 20 different designs in various sizes.
Variations of the EAT slogan include “Eat Here”, “Let’s Eat” and “Good Eats”. Some one-stops, where travelers could also gas up their cars, would inject a little humor with slogans like “Eat Here and Get Gas”.
Have you incorporated an EAT sign in your kitchen or dining area? We’d love to see your pics!