95 years ago today a revolution was begun on the streets of France by André Citroën.
It was on 20 February 1921 that Citroën launched a complex project to improve the inadequate road signs in France. He founded the “Plaques Citroën” street and directional signs which actively contributed to road safety. The initially octagonal shaped, later oval shaped metal signs, were signed by the slogan “Don de Citroën” (translated: “donated by Citroën”).
The massive increase in the number of automobiles on French roads led to a dramatic increase of traffic. At the same time, there was a need to know in which direction to go to find your destination. Many accidents happened at crossings when drivers were unsure on where to go. This was the key motivation for André Citroën to donate street signs and thus contribute to an added level of road safety. Of course this also presented the perfect marketing opportunity for creativity and innovation which André Citroën was renowned for. The “plaques Citroën” served as billboards for the “double-chevron” brand.
During the 1920s and 30s in France a veritable race started among automobile manufacturers and supplier companies: Each company wanted to produce a large volume of road signs to ensure the highest possible presence on the road – a competition which Citroën clearly could win. Until 1937, more than 165,000 “plaques Citroën” were mounted on France’s streets as well as in the former Algerian departments.
Signage even went beyond France. In Germany, Citroën street signs were present in the pre-war years as can be seen in this photo of them on the Hohenzollern Bridge in the heart of Cologne around 1928.