The History of Highway Signs

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Traffic Flow in the Early 1900s

Highway signs have been a part of this nation’s history for many years. When the nation’s first turnpike – Philadelphia, PA to Lancaster, PA – was authorized by the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 1794, the Act required mileposts and directional signs.

Signing as we know it today got its start in the early 1900’s from Automotive Clubs who wanted to provide direction for their touring groups. These efforts were often enthusiastic, but were neither effective nor consistent.


Early Highway Signing

Wisconsin was the first to start making sense and system out of disorder. The Badger State initiated the erection of official route signs as part of its maintenance function in 1918.

As more states became active in signing it became obvious some standardization was necessary. In January of 1923 the Mississippi Valley of State Highway Departments agreed on a signing and marking plan which was to become the basis for national standards. Its plan called for all signs to have white background with letters and/or symbols in black:

1) Round signs to be used only as warnings of railroad crossings

2) Octagonal signs always signifying “STOP”

3) Diamond shaped signs for “SLOW WARNINGS”

4) Square shaped signs for “CAUTION” or “ATTENTION” signs

5) Regulatory signs for directional and regulatory information

6) Route markers of some characteristic or conventional shape different from above


Interstate Highway 1986

It was not until 1927 that the first national manual was issued on traffic signs. This manual stated “all signs of a precautionary nature, including the circular railroad sign, the octagonal stop sign, the diamond shaped slow sign, and the square caution sign, have black designs on a yellow background.”


Steel Embossed Stop Sign

It was some years later, in 1955, that stop signs were changed from black on yellow to white on red.


Steel Embossed Stop Signs with Cat’s Eye Marbles

The major change over the years was in the driving public’s desire to drive at night. Retroflection was applied to traffic signs in the 1920’s; the glass cat’s eye marbles were embedded in traffic signs. It was in the 1930’s when someone discovered a way to make more of the sign’s surface reflective by making the marbles smaller – reducing them to microscopic glass beads in the paint on the surface of the sign. This was known as “beads on paint.” This product was extremely low in reflective brightness and rainy conditions made the sign useless because water acted as another lens and scattered light that should have been reflected.

Some improvements were made over the years, but it was in the late 1940’s when 3M Company coated the glass beads with a tough clear plastic that held the water off the beads and offset the light scattering effect. For the first time the complete surface of the sign became a warning in the dark.


Interstate Highway Circa 1955

As noted earlier, in the 1950’s additional colors were added to the signing spectrum – red for stop and green for go – used on the first tollway directional signs. While early signs were made of wood and stone, and eventually steel, the standard backing material in use today throughout this country and the modern world is aluminum.

Today, high performance reflective materials are available that are eight times brighter than those of the 50’s. This, combined with lightweight – yet strong – aluminum provides signs with a guaranteed ten (10) to twelve (12) year life. These brighter, longer lasting materials have played a significant role in making our roads safer and helping to reduce accidents on our nation’s highways.


Chemical Conversion Treatment on Aluminum Sign Blanks

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I once heard the statement that aluminum sign blanks are a fairly vanilla product, meaning that from one supplier to the next, there isn’t much of a difference. We beg to differ. Not only is there a difference, there is a significant one. Why? At Vulcan Aluminum, our sign blanks go through a rigorous Chemical Conversion Treatment ensuring the best corrosion-fighting coverage in the industry. Our 340-foot long, 7-Step Power Spray System utilized in our Alodizing Line is the finishing touch in our manufacturing process.

Step 1: Cleaning. A liquid etching type alkaline cleaner is used per manufacturer’s recommendations.

Step 2: Rinse. An overflowing water rinse is used.

Step 3: Deoxidizer is used to desmut and remove heat treatment and residual oxides remaining on metal.

Step 4: Rinse. An overflowing water rinse is used.

Step 5: Chemical Conversion Treatment. A chemical conversion treatment is utilized to produce a protective golden coating.

Step 6: Rinse. An overflowing water rinse is used.

Step 7: Drying. A forced, hot air drying process is used.

Our 7-Step treating system at Vulcan not only provides the best coating coverage in the business, but it also allows us to process material faster which lowers our lead times.

After 40+ years in the sign fabrication business, Vulcan Aluminum’s process has proven to stand the test of time. For more information on Vulcan products, please visit us online at

alodizing line

Mounting a Sign to a U-Channel Sign Post

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This blog title sort of sounds like it should have the words “for Dummies” after it. Though it sounds simple, it is all too often that we see signs in the field mounted improperly. And just for the record, a few new members of the Vulcan team have made the same mistake, so no judgment here. If you have never been shown, then you don’t know. However, it is pertinent to learn the correct way since improper mounting techniques can cause multiple issues, with the primary one being sign instability.

If you will notice, a U-Channel post has two sides – a flat side and a side that has a protruding edge. The sign will always need to mount to the flat side of the U-Channel to ensure maximum wind resistance. See diagram below for visual.

Proper Mounting for U-Channel

In high-wind areas, a Sign Saver may be installed to further increase sign stability.

Sign Saver

Over time, constant wind can take a toll on your signs, widening the hole where the sign is attached to the post to the point where the bolt can no longer hold the sign. Watch the video below to see the result of a sign improperly mounted on a U-Channel post in a high wind area. Improve the longevity of your signs in the field by ensuring signs are mounted to the flat side of the U-Channel, as well as install a sign saver kit (pictured above).

For more information on post options and mounting hardware, give us a call or send us an email. We would be happy to help. 1.888.846.2728 |

Vulcan Aluminum Mill: No Longer a One Trick Pony


Since the mid 1980s, Vulcan has proudly manufactured only one alloy… 5052. This alloy has been a household staple for us for a very long time and our sole concentration on 5052 has served us well up to this point in time. Over the past few years however, the automotive market has shifted to the use of aluminum in the manufacturing process in order to build lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. This trend has encouraged us to expand the alloys that we manufacture and supply.

Vulcan Alloy Photo

No longer a one trick pony, Vulcan now proudly provides alloys 5754 and 5182 in addition to our old standby, 5052. While 5052 is a fairly common alloy that is used in every product from concrete forms to pizza pans, our two newest alloys serve as integral components in the automotive industry, but are equally as diverse. Applications for 5182 and 5754 are described below.

5182 Applications

  • Packaging products (such as containers)
  • Beverage cans
  • Motor vehicle/automotive body panels and reinforcement members
  •  Brackets and parts

5754 Applications

  • Treadplate
  • Shipbuilding
  • Vehicle bodies
  • Rivets
  • Fishing industry equipment

5754 Alloy has an excellent corrosion resistance, especially to saltwater. For this reason, 5754 is the primary alloy chosen for marine applications.

Taking into account our most recent rolling mill expansion which doubled our capacity from 50 million pounds per year to 100 million, coupled with the alloy diversity we now offer, opportunity is evident today for Vulcan. We pride ourselves on the trusting relationships we build with our business partners and stand behind our products that we have put our mark on for the past 75+ years. So if you are looking for an aluminum supplier that stands ready to serve, this pony now officially has more than one trick up its saddlebag.


Metal Stamping 101: Part 2 of 2


Welcome back for Part 2 of Metal Stamping 101. This week we will be learning more about the processes of Forming, Laser Cutting, Piercing and Progressive Stamping. Let’s dive right in…



Forming- Forming is a metal stamping operation that Vulcan performs to shape a flat or blanked piece of metal to create a desired specification, similar to bending. Complex parts such as U-sections, channel sections of different profiles, can be produced by doing multiple bends.



Laser Cutting- Laser Cutting is a process utilized by Vulcan Metal Stampings to cut materials with a laser, providing a high quality surface finish with great precision and close contours. Laser cutting with Vulcan Metal Stampings can produce parts with minimum setup time and no tooling cost. Laser cutting is a cost-efficient process for small batch production and can be done with quick turnaround, enabling Vulcan Metal Stampings to work with you to meet your prototyping needs. Additionally, scrap is minimized in this process as laser cutting allows close nesting of parts.



Piercing-Piercing is a shearing process where a punch and die are used to create a hole in sheet metal or a plate. The process and machinery are usually the same as that used in blanking, except that the piece being punched out is scrap in the piercing process. There are many specialized types of piercing: lancing, perforating, notching, nibbling, shaving, cutoff, and dinking.



Progressive Stamping- Progressive Stamping is a metalworking method that can encompass punching, coining, bending and several other ways of modifying metal raw material, combined with an automatic feeding system. The feeding system pushes a strip of metal (as it unrolls from a coil) through all of the stations of a progressive stamping die. Each station performs one or more operations until a finished part is made. The final station is a cutoff operation, which separates the finished part from the carrying web. The carrying web, along with metal that is punched away in previous operations, is treated as scrap metal. Vulcan Metal Stampings has multiple progressive dies and also has the ability to make small progressive dies in-house.

In addition to the primary operations listed above, Vulcan Metal Stampings offers many secondary operations including Assembling, Counter-Sinking, De-Burring, E-Coating, Electro-Plating, Heat-Treating, Notching, Painting, Powder Coating, Riveting, Staking, Tapping and Welding. For more information or to request a quote, please visit or call 1.888.846.2805.

Metal Stamping 101: Part 1 of 2


Bending, blanking, drawing, forming… the world of metal stamping involves an array of very specific processes and procedures. Believe it or not, metal stamping is an essential service in which many of the product components in your home or office are fabricated. The chair you are sitting in most likely has a stamped part, as well as the car you drive and the tools in your garage. From energy, to environmental, computer, automotive, hardware, electronic, government, office furniture, lawn and garden, home furnishings and highway construction, metal stamping plays a vital role in many industries.

To better understand the different processes under the metal stamping umbrella, Part 1 of this blog post will provide information on Bending, Blanking, Coining, Drawing and Embossing.



Bending- Bending is a common metalworking technique used to process sheet metal. Vulcan Metal Stampings does this process by hand or by using a V-die on a brake press. Usually, bending has to overcome both tensile stresses and compressive stresses. When bending is done, the residual stresses make the material spring back towards its original position, so we have to over-bend the sheet metal keeping in mind the residual stresses. When sheet metal is bent, it stretches in length. The bend deduction is the amount the sheet metal will stretch when bent as measured from the outside. Also, a bend has a bend radius, referring to the inside radius. The bend radius depends upon the dies used, the metal properties, and the metal thickness.



Blanking- Blanking is a shearing process where a punch and die are used to create a “blank” from sheet metal or strip. The process and machinery are usually the same as that used in piercing, except that the piece being punched out in the piercing process is scrap. In blanking, this piece being punched out is the actual part. Vulcan Metal Stampings also does fine blanking: a specialized form of blanking where there is no fracture zone when shearing. This condition is achieved by compressing the whole part and then utilizing an upper and lower punch to extract the blank. This technique allows the process to hold very tight tolerances, and perhaps eliminate secondary operations. Let Vulcan Metal Stampings help with your blanking needs when using metals including aluminum, brass, copper, and carbon, alloy, and stainless steels.



Coining- Coining is a form of precision stamping in which a work-piece is subjected to a sufficiently high stress to induce flow on the surface of the material. The term originated from the process of manufacturing coins. Coining is a cold working process that uses a great deal of force to deform a work-piece, so that it conforms to a die. Coining can be done using a gear driven press, a mechanical press, or more commonly, a hydraulically actuated press. Coining typically requires higher tonnage presses than stamping, because the work-piece is deformed and not actually cut.



Drawing- Drawing is a metalworking process which uses tensile forces to stretch metal. It is broken up into two types: sheet metal drawing and wire, bar, and tube drawing. Vulcan Metal Stampings does sheet metal drawing, which is defined as drawing that involves plastic deformation over a curved axis. The success of drawing is related to two things: the flow and the stretch of material. As a die forms a shape from a flat sheet of metal, the material must conform to the shape of the die. The flow of material is controlled through pressure applied to the blank and lubrication applied to the die or the blank. If the blank moves too freely, wrinkles will occur in the part. To correct this, more pressure or less lubrication is applied to the blank to limit the flow of material and cause the material to stretch or thin. If too much pressure is applied, the part will become too thin and break. Drawing metal is the science of finding the correct balance between wrinkling and breaking to achieve a successful part.



Embossing- Embossing is a process for producing raised or sunken designs or relief in sheet metal. This process can be made by means of matched male and female dies, or by passing sheet or a strip of metal between rolls of the desired pattern. The sheet metal embossing operation is commonly accomplished with a combination of heat and pressure on the sheet metal, depending on what type of embossing is required. Metal sheet is drawn through the male and female roller dies producing a pattern or design on the metal sheet. Depending on the roller dies used, different patterns can be produced on the metal sheet. This combination of pressure and heat actually “irons” while raising the level of the image higher than the substrate to make it smooth. The term “impressing” enables one to distinguish an image lowered into the surface of a material, in distinction to an image raised out of the surface of a material. Vulcan Metal Stampings commonly uses embossing as a means to strengthen or stiffen a part.

Stay tuned… Part 2 of Metal Stamping 101 will cover Forming, Laser Cutting, Piercing and Progressive Stamping. For more information or to request a quote, please visit or call 1.888.846.2805.


Line of Sight: A Best Practice in the Pipeline Industry



Underground pipelines… they span all across the country transporting essential commodities such as oil, gas and water, however they often go unnoticed since their presence is hidden below the soil. Excavation and even minor digging can potentially cause serious issues due to the fact that you never know where an underground pipeline may exist. Industry regulations such as CFR Title 49 | 192.707, CFR Title 49 | 195.410 and API RP 1109 are in place to provide specifications on the design and location of pipeline markers. These regulations are fairly clear for most marking situations, however gray areas still exist, which is where the Best Practice Line of Sight steps in to fill in the gaps.

Line of sight

The Line of Sight concept refers to being able to stand at one marker and see the next marker down the way. If the next marker in the line is hidden, there is no easy way to determine the path of the pipe below. Far from rocket science, Line of Sight is a simple yet effective Best Practice in the pipeline industry.


For more information on Line of Sight, CFR and API regulations associated with pipeline marking, please visit Vulcan’s YouTube Channel to watch an educational video. To place an order for pipeline markers conforming to the regulations discussed in the blog article, please call 1.800.426.1314 or visit


A New Look for Safety Signs: The ANSI Z535.2-2011 Format


Safety signs, OSHA signs… whatever you choose to call them, they all serve the same purpose; to communicate a precautionary message where a potential workplace hazard exists. Over the years safety signs have changed very little, until now that is. Recently, the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) developed the ANSI Z535.2-2011 format for environmental and facility safety signs. This new standard was created to enhance the communication of workplace hazard messages. For a clear illustration of the layout enhancements made, see the comparison below of traditional OSHA signs versus the new ANSI Z535.2-2011 format.


As you can see, there have been quite a few changes made to the new ANSI format including a new text style and pictograms (symbols) that illustrate the potential hazard. Safety signs using the traditional OSHA format will still be acceptable for use in spite of the new ANSI Z535.2-2011 format. The key components of the new standard are described below.


When designed correctly, the new ANSI safety signs can be highly effective. There are several steps that need to be followed in order to ensure compliance with the standard. Below is a beginner’s outline of those steps.

  1. Identify the potential hazard for which the message needs to be communicated.
  2. Determine the best location for the sign.
  3. Determine the distance that the sign needs to be visible from.
  4. Once distance is determined, the size sign may be figured.
  5. Determine whether a horizontal or vertical layout would fit the location best.
  6. Determine the Signal Word needed.
  7. Determine the Safety Symbol needed.
  8. Determine the Word Message.


For more information on ANSI Standard Z535.2-2011, please visit

To upgrade the safety signs in your facility according to the new ANSI Standard, call or email Vulcan, Inc. today!

Phone: 1.888.846.2728




Why 5052 Aluminum Alloy?


In 1986, construction was completed for Vulcan’s state-of-the-art aluminum rolling mill. Always known as fabricators of quality signs for the transportation industry, Vulcan was about to embark on an entirely new business venture… the manufacturing of 5052 aluminum coil and sheet. 5052 was chosen as the alloy to manufacture for one simple reason; it was and still is the alloy specified by all state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) for road signs. With two sister divisions, Vulcan Aluminum and Vulcan Signs, utilizing 5052 aluminum blanks in their fabrication process, the goal was to become vertically integrated. This would allow for greater control in the areas of quality and lead time. 5052 alloy also has higher magnesium content than most other alloys, giving it more strength and greater corrosion resistance.


The strategic decision to manufacture 5052 has been a successful one for Vulcan. Not only is our aluminum used in the sign fabrication process, but its versatility has allowed for integration into many other industry-specific products as well including, but not limited to…

Concrete Forms

Electrical Cabinets

Irrigation Systems

Freshwater Boats

Truck/Trailer Bodies

Automotive Components

Solar Panel Components

Vulcan’s in-house Metallurgist works hand-in-hand with our sales department to ensure our aluminum will meet the requirements of our customers. From pizza pans to pontoon boats, Vulcan 5052 Aluminum Alloy serves as the integral component to many products that you see every day. Instead of asking the question “Why 5052 Aluminum Alloy?” the question should be, “Why would I not use 5052?!”

Sheeting 101: Engineer Grade, Diamond Grade, High Intensity Prismatic… Clarification for the Confused.

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Since the advent of reflective sheeting in the 1930s (by 3M Corporation), scientific research has advanced this product component primarily used for highway signs, steadily improving brightness and visibility over time. First, Engineer Grade sheeting was introduced into the marketplace, followed by High Intensity and Diamond Grade. 3M has developed all grades of sheeting with prismatic technology, providing brighter, longer-lasting signs for the motoring public.

Sheeting 4

When determining which sheeting type to utilize in highway sign fabrication, several concerns come to mind. Will the sheeting meet the specs required for that particular type sign? What about longevity in the field?

– Engineer Grade Prismatic (EGP) has no warranty, and has a life expectancy of five to seven years.

– High Intensity Prismatic (HIP) comes with a 10 year warranty. HIP Type 4 meets all mandated FHWA retroreflectivity standards in all colors for ground mount signs.

Vulcan Ground Mount Signs

– Diamond Grade Cubed (DG3) provides superior performance and has a 12 year warranty.

– School signs and unsignalized pedestrian crosswalks shall be Fluorescent Yellow Green (FYG).

Fluroescent Yellow Green

With baby boomers aging, there has been a push for bigger, brighter signs on the road to serve this largest segment of the population. This push has accelerated the advancement of technology in sheeting research and development. Angularity and retroreflectivity are the key elements explored here. This can be defined by…

Retroreflectivity simply refers to the property of a traffic sign to reflect light back to the driver to increase nighttime visibility. Retroreflectiviity degrades over time, necessitating the need for systematic replacement of signs to maintain the retroreflectivity standards established and required by FHWA.

Angularity refers primarily to Entrance Angle, which is the angle of the sign relative to the vehicle when the sign is viewed by the driver. The angle at which a sign is seen affects its visibility, especially at night. The more angled a reflective sign is from the driver’s perspective, the lower the amount of retroreflected light reaching the driver and the less bright the sign appears. The Entrance Angle varies according to the driver’s distance from the sign, so the reflective sheeting must be able to perform well along the whole approach to the sign.

Vulcan Stop Signs

As seen in this photo, angularity greatly affects the visibility of a sign under nighttime conditions.