American Sign Museum hopes to make Cincinnati national center for research and information

The American Sign Museum in Walnut Hills opened in 2005 and has since steadily gained in popularity while attracting visitors from across the country. When director and founder Tod Swormstedt first conceived the idea for the museum, he had no collection and was going through a self-proclaimed mid-life crisis. Years later, however, the museum’s success has allowed him to think much bigger and his ambitions have grown exponentially.

In January, 2012, Swormstedt is hoping to move his popular museum into a new 43,000 square-foot historic building in Camp Washington (map) called Machine Flats. So far $1.6 million has been put towards the new museum with an additional $800,000 needed before they can officially move into the entire building. To date, approximately 98 percent of those funds have been donated by the sign industry.

Swormstedt’s goal for the new space is to make Cincinnati the National Center for Sign Research & Information. He says that the museum will move beyond merely displaying the unique collection of historic signs and memorabilia, and move towards a more comprehensive approach to sign information and education.

“The history of signs is a micro-history of design trends and technology in the U.S., and I want to capitalize on that right here in Cincinnati,” says Swormstedt, who sees the new museum as fitting in perfectly with Agenda 360’s Regional Action Plan and the recent designation of Cincinnati as a Hub of Innovation & Opportunity in the area of Consumer Marketing.

The new building will eventually be split into two main sections: a museum that will feature the history of signs, and a training facility that will focus on the usage and future development of signage. The museum section of the new space will feature three-dimensional artificial storefronts that will allow the historic signs to be displayed in their original form, both on the buildings and in storefront windows.

However, it is in the new training facility where Swormstedt sees the most potential for community growth. His hopes are to eventually work with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business and College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning to create a space where students can learn about the value, design, structure and history of signs. Ultimately Swormstedt views the new museum as a way to blend some of Cincinnati’s most valuable assets – history, art, design and commerce.

The American Sign Museum is currently located at 2515 Essex Place in Walnut Hills and is open to the public on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.  All other times must be scheduled by appointment at (513) 258-4020 or

  • Rob

    Is this going in the building where the apartments are? Is there unused space there?

  • Kevin Wright


    Tod Swormstedt did not mention anything about apartments, but he is waiting for Federal Tax Credits to expire before he can take over the second half (roughly 20,000 square feet)of the building. I’ll see if I can get an answer for you.

  • Rob:

    The apartments will stay just where they are. There is a large portion of the building behind the existing apartments that was part of the original purchase by Middle Earth Developers.

    Since that time, no use had been found for this other section until the Sign Museum. So to answer your question, yes there is unused warehouse space behind the apartments at Machine Flats that will be used by the American Sign Museum.

  • Middle Earth developed some apartments /condos (?) there.

  • Quimbob:

    Yes, the Machine Flats apartment units were done by Middle Earth Developers.