Pahk the police cah in Futurah Blahk
February 1, 2011 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know the history of Boston's use of Futura Black as its "official" municipal font? Examples inside.

Here's an example of the font on a police car.

Here's an example on a fire truck.

The font can be seen on a number of other Boston municipal vehicles (along with other fonts; this seems to be the newest logo for the Boston police). At this point, I'm not sure whether/where else the font is used other than on vehicles.

Does anyone know the history of Boston's use of this font? When did it start? Why? Who selected it? What were its original applications? When did it stop being used? Why?

Are there other municipalities that have an "official" font, used across multiple services?

I'm not looking a history of Futura Black itself (wiki), per se, just its use by Boston (or other municipalities).
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When did it start?

I remember when the fire department changed to that font in the early 70s. Why it was done, I don't know.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:49 AM on February 1, 2011

According to this typophile thread, the police also switched in the 1970s.
When I was first really falling in love with type in the early 70s, I was living in Boston with a roommate. I worked at an art supply store (Charrette) and Jeff operated a typositor in a local composing room, so we talked about type all the time. For evening meals we often went to a Greek resto around the corner called Ann's Lunch, and as the food was outstanding and reasonably priced, it was also a hangout for cops.

At that time the Boston police must have decided they needed an advertising agency or something, because overnight all the cruisers went from saying BOSTON POLICE in Helvetica Light a/c, to very large boston police in Futura Black lc. Not exactly what any of us would call a subtle change.
posted by zamboni at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2011

A side note: Wikipedia lists the Boston public safety typeface as Braggadocio. (I suspect you'll find various examples of stencil typefaces used on Boston emergency vehicles.)
posted by zamboni at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the interesting notes so far! I had no idea it went back nearly 40 years.

Braggadocio is clearly similar, but also clearly not the font on the car I linked to (though that doesn't mean that Braggadocio was not used in the past, or on different cars). If anyone can find a link to a good photo of any older uses of the font (or Braggadocio), I'd be grateful.

As one data point, here is the old Helvetica Light(?) font in use on a police car in a photo dated 1970.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2011

Response by poster: Zamboni--that's a great photo! Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:24 AM on February 1, 2011

Here's some decent BPD vintage photos. Photos dated 1970-1 have police cars with a sanserif typeface, and 1976 with the stencil font.

A possible non web source: The Boston Fire Museum.
posted by zamboni at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2011

Response by poster: Also, it's funny that on the Braggadocio door (rear door), the lower-case "c" does not seem to be in Braggadocio.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:29 AM on February 1, 2011

This collection of MDC Police photos has a 1975 photo of a cruiser with the stencil font.
posted by zamboni at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2011

Boston Fire History Society has a large collection of apparatus photos, but they're sorted by company and truck, not by date. (A quick look suggests the FD was a little haphazard about switching over.) doesn't appear to have anything particularly useful, but it might be worth asking in the forum.
posted by zamboni at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2011

Response by poster: Zamboni, I'm gonna have to call 911, because you are on fire! So many great resources, and fantastic historic photos--thanks very much for sharing!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:17 AM on February 2, 2011

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