When the tall, lean 39-year old from Chicago was asked to explain his job, he said: “If anybody asks you, sign-painting’s just an occupational disease. But we get around, that’s something.”
It was the mid-1930s, and the Works Projects Administration was assembling a Historical Records Survey–personal accounts about different professions–as a kind of oral history of American workers. They sent writers out to scour the country, hoping to create a portrait of its workforce. They interviewed all kinds of people, including a few sign-painters like the man from Chicago.
At the time sign-painting was a fairly common job, and many sign-painters did, indeed, get around. While most cities had their own sign shops, many smaller towns and rural areas depended on traveling artisans to do their sign-painting.