ISA marks 75th Anniversary

January 11, 2019

As World War II raged on, a group of sign company professionals gathered to discuss ways that they could help grow their industry. Out of that meeting, and under the direction of Executive Secretary Maury Ely, the National Electric Sign Association was born on January 11, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois. Reflecting the growth in the industry—in both geography and technology—NESA changed its name to the International Sign Association in the mid-1990s.

ISA will mark the significant anniversary throughout 2019, with future-focused projects that anticipate changes technologies will bring to the industry. But it is important to assess how far ISA and the industry has come since 1944.

NESA began with eight founding objectives, many of which remain at the core of ISA's work 75 years later:

  • Education, with goals of training courses to help member company employees improve techniques;
  • Information, to keep members advised on governmental regulations, trade practices, taxation and other matters affecting the sign industry;
  • Labor Relations, to improve working conditions in the industry and assist members in negotiations with trade unions;
  • Legislative, to promote active participation in all legislative matters to serve the best interests of the industry;
  • Maintenance Service, to establish uniform contracts and standards of maintenance service throughout the country and to increase value of quality to sign users;
  • Promotion, to create a greater appreciation of the value of electric signs for advertising and identification;
  • Standards and Research, to study and develop specifications to simplify and improve materials and methods used in sign manufacturing operations; and
  • Trade Practices, to establish policies and practices to improve trade relations within the industry and with sign buyers and the public.

"It really is amazing to see how many of these goals remain a significant work of ISA today," said Lori Anderson, ISA president and CEO. "While our founders would be amazed at how far our industry has come and the ways that technology improvements continue to build upon signs' importance to our customers, their foresight hit upon what would be crucial to driving our industry forward."

Through the years, ISA has built upon those goals to respond to changing needs and opportunities. While the founders thought education would come in the form of a printed manual, today's workers are trained through a variety of methods, including in-person, webinars and on-demand online training events. ISA continues to produce research that provides more insight into the value of signs, working closely with the Sign Research Foundation; ISA's legislative work continues at the local, state and federal levels, but a particularly successful strategy is in training planners and local officials on the importance of signs to their communities; and ISA communicates with members frequently, through social media and email, keeping them informed of ways their businesses can grow. ISA has led the industry in reaching out to key influencers like architects, designers and chambers of commerce to help them understand the role signs play in building dynamic communities.

Other goals have changed and ISA has responded by tailoring programs to address pressing needs. Recruiting and retaining workers is a current challenge. ISA's programs—including ISA Sign Manufacturing Day, which promotes the industry to students, and ISA Elite, which brings next-generation industry leaders together—have come in response to this changing dynamic.

Just a few years after NESA was founded, it brought together the industry for an annual convention, which has developed into the only event that focuses on the breadth of the sign, graphics and visual communications industry: ISA International Sign Expo. ISA Sign Expo 2019 will include a celebration of ISA’s 75th anniversary at ISA ROCKS!, the industry celebration held each year.

Several founding NESA members remain, including Engineered Glass Laboratories (now EGL Co.); NM Sign Supply (now Wensco); and Signs of The Times (now ST Media Group). Gemini; France Lighting Solutions/SFEG; Grimco; Federal Heath; Neon Engineering, Inc.; North American Signs; Watchfire/Time-o-Matic; and Wagner Zip-Change all joined NESA in its first two years and remain ISA members today.

Come celebrate how far the sign, graphics and visual communications industry has come in 75 years at ISA International Sign Expo 2019, held April 24-26 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. All registered attendees are invited to ISA ROCKS: The Industry Celebration!

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