ISA celebrates its 75th Anniversary

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 (NESA) 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 (ISA) in the mid-1990s. The association added that it “will mark this significant anniversary throughout 2019 with future-focused projects that anticipate changes that technologies will bring to the industry. But it’s 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. These include:

  • 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
  • Labour 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 and to increase the 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
  • Trade Practices, to establish policies and practices to improve trade relations within the industry and with sign buyers and the public
Lori Anderson.

“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.”

Throughout the years, ISA has built upon those goals to respond to changing needs and opportunities in the sign industry. 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 additional insights into the value of signs, working closely with the Sign Research Foundation. ISA’s legislative work also 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. ISA also communicates frequently with members through social media and email, keeping them informed of ways that their businesses can grow. ISA has also reached out to key influencers such as architects, designers and chambers of commerce, to help them understand the role that signs play in building dynamic communities.

As member goals have changed, ISA has responded by tailoring programs to address pressing and specific needs. Recruiting and retaining workers is an important current challenge. ISA’s programs (including the ISA Sign Manufacturing Day, which promotes the industry to students and ISA Elite in Canada and the U.S. and 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: the ISA International Sign Expo. The ISA Sign Expo for 2019 will include a celebration of ISA’s 75th Anniversary at ISA Rocks! – The Industry Celebration held each year.

The ISA International Sign Expo 2019 will be held April 24-26 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. To learn more or to register, please visit All registered attendees are invited to ISA Rocks! – The Industry Celebration!


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.