City dwellers are often subject to bad typography, but in 1943, artist, author, and humorist Gelett Burgess decided to do something about it. He took the issue up with then-mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and did so in the most writerly way possible: with verse.
The New-York Historical Society recently shared the letter from Burgess, in which he wrote:
WHY IS IT he who paints the signs On New York’s numbered streets combines Such Threes and Sixes, Eights and Nines? For, at a distance, when it’s late, It’s hard to differentiate Between a Six, Nine, Three and Eight.
He continued on for 11 stanzas, concluding with:
Oh, Mr. Mayor, be kind! Be wise! Our street signs please do modernize With numbers we can recognize!
The complaint letter didn’t go unnoticed, or unanswered. La Guardia wrote back, also in verse, and even referenced Burgess’s 1937 book Look Eleven Years Younger. His seven-stanza response ends with:
A whole new set is what we want, And meantime, praying on our knees Our genial government to grant Priorities “A post-war project!” we will cry And when a fleet of signs appears The City will look younger by Eleven years
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