Wisconsin Highways

Wisconsin's Route Markers

From the earliest times of numbered and marked state trunk highways in Wisconsin, the standard state route marker has been the shape of a triangle, more or less. Early on, the triangle was taller than it was wide, had no horizontal rectangular element, and had the words "STATE TRUNK HIGHWAY " across the top and a stylized "WIS" under the route number. (See Standard Highway Markers: 1921 for photos of some of these signs.)

These early route markers would either be erected on stand-alone posts or on telephone and electric line poles along the highway. (Utility poles close by the side of the travelled-way were much more common in the first half of the 20th century.) By the 1930s, the rectangular "box" portion of the route marker had been added so that the route designation could be displayed with a larger font. The heading "WIS" was moved to the top of the triangle at this time.

In the early 1960s the traditional Wisconsin "cutout" triangle-and-rectangle was then incorporated with a square black sign "blank," as it is today. For more than three decades, the Wisconsin state highway marker has remained relatively unchanged.

This page attempts to illustrate the many and varies types of route markers used on Wisconsin's highways, from Interstate, US and State Trunk highways to National Forest routes, Great Lakes Circle Tours, Rustic Roads, county roads and others. Pick a type of route marker to jump directly to it:

Interstate | US Highway | State | County | Forest | Circle Tours | Other

Interstate Highway Markers
Wisconsin Interstate Marker
Wisconsin Interstate Marker
Wisconsin Interstate Marker 3-Digit
Wisconsin Interstate Marker 3-Digit
Original style Interstate route marker adopted in the late 1950s and in use into the 1980s.
Newer-style Interstate route marker omits the state name, allowing for larger and easier-to-read numerals.
Original style 3-Digit Interstate route marker adopted in the late 1950s and in use into the 1980s.
Newer-style 3-Digit Interstate route marker omits the state name, allowing for larger and easier-to-read numerals.
US Highway Markers
Wisconsin US Highway Marker
Wisconsin US Highway Marker
Original style US Highway route marker adopted in the mid-1920s and in use into the 1940s.
Intermediate style US Highway route marker adopted in the 1940s and in use into the 1950s.
A more major redesign of the US Highway marker in Wisconsin in the early 1960s placed the marker onto a black "sign blank."
Another tweak to the US Highway marker in Wisconsin around 1965-66 coincided with a similar redesign of the State Trunk Highway marker.
Wisconsin US Highway Marker
Wisconsin US Highway Marker 3-Digit
Beginning around 1973-74, US Highway markers began appearing on square black "sign blanks" and continue as such today.
The modern-day three-digit US Highway route marker, also adopted around 1973-74.
State Trunk Highway Markers
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1921
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1924
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1927
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1938
The earliest known version of the Wisconsin state trunk highway marker, this one from a 1921 illustration. (More marker photos from this timeframe.)
This image appeared on Rand McNally & Co. "Junior Auto Trails" maps of Wisconsin in the early 1920s, illustrating a state highway marker posted on a utility pole.
In c.1927, about the time the first US Highways were being signed, the words "STATE TRUNK HIGHWAY" were removed from the top of the state highway marker.
In a makeover of the state highway route marker from c.1938, a rounded-corner rectangle was added atop the familiar triangle and the "WIS" legend was moved to the top.
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1960s
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1960s
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker 1970s
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway Marker
By the 1950s, the route number typeface had been updated to use the standard 'FHWA' numerals. Otherwise, the marker remained unchanged from 1938.
The first Wisconsin state highway marker to appear on a black "sign blank," from around 1965-66. For the only time, the entire state name appeared on the marker itself.
The next changes included removing the horizontal line separating the triangle and rectangle, removing the outline and shortening the state name to "WIS".
The current state trunk highway route marker. Only the legend "WIS" was removed and the route number moved up from the previous version.
County Trunk Highway Markers
Wisconsin County Trunk Highway Marker 1938
Wisconsin County Trunk Highway Marker 1960s
Wisconsin County Trunk Highway Marker
An early version of the County Trunk Highway marker used through the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
The first County Trunk Highway marker to appear on a black "sign blank" assumedly from the 1960s.
The current County Trunk Highway route marker used statewide.
Federal Forest Highway & Forest Road Markers
Federal Forest Highway Marker
Secondary National Forest  Road
Low-Standard Forest Road
Federal Forest Highway route markers appear in Wisconsin's national forests. These are high-quality, well-maintained (usually all-weather) highways.
Secondary Forest Road sign, used on roads generally open to automobile travel and closed to ORV use. These roads can range from paved to one-lane gravel.
Low-Standard Forest Road signs are used for roads which may be open to motorized use or may be closed to all but ORV or foot traffic. These range from one-lane gravel to two-track.
Great Lakes Circle Tour Markers
Great Lakes Circle Tour
Lake Michigan Circle Tour
Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop
Lake Superior Circle Tour
The Great Lakes Circle Tour sign, used very sparingly in Wisconsin, although it does appear once in awhile.
The Lake Michigan Circle Tour route marker is found along many miles of Wisconsin highways.
The Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop route marker is used for loops off the mainline Circle Tour route.
The Lake Superior Circle Tour route marker appears along several Northern Wisconsin highways.
Lake Superior Circle Tour Loop
The Lake Superior Circle Tour Loop route marker is used for loops off the mainline Circle Tour route.
Other Route Markers
Great River Road Wisconsin Marker
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive Marker
Wisconsin Rustic Road Marker
Wisconsin State Trunk Highway 32 Marker
The Great River Road stretches from the Gulf of Mexico into Ontario, touching Wisconsin en route.
The 115-mile long Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive traverses six Southeastern Wisconsin counties and uses this route marker.
The more than 100 Rustic Roads in all corners of the state use this route marker. A supplementary Rustic Road Number plate is affixed below the sign designating each route by number.
While largely the same as standard state route markers, the marker for STH-32 includes two small "Red Arrows" memorializing the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division.

 

Acknowledgements:

Nearly every route marker image above was created by Christopher J. Bessert and, therefore, are copyrighted ©2004-08 Christopher J. Bessert, All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or otherwise use them without prior written permission. Any commercial use is strictly prohibited.

However, some acknowledgements and credit are necessary.

  • Many thanks to Michael Adams and his "Roadgeek" typeface series used to create many of these route markers.
  • Additional thanks to Bruce S Cridlebaugh and his "USHighwaysOldStyle" typeface used for the 'original style' US route markers.
  • Richard C. Moeur's "Sign Manual" website provided a few of the graphic bases used in creating these markers.
  • James Lin's "Highway Route Markers" website provided much inspiration.
  • The 1921 and 1938 state trunk highway route markers and the earliest version of the county trunk highway marker were modified from scans of images from early Wisconsin Highway Commission maps and publications.
  • The second earliest state trunk highway markers ("STH-15") was reproduced from a Rand McNally & Co. "Junior Auto Trails Map of Wisconsin," 1924.
  • Many thanks to John Repp who provided photos of older versions of the Wisconsin US Highway marker and other guidance for this page.

 

Additional Information:

For more information on Wisconsin's state highway (and other) route markers, visit the following off-site sources:

 

"Dedicated to the past, present and future of the Wisconsin State Trunk Highway system as well as other highways and routes throughout the Badger State. This website is intended to be a clearinghouse of information on Wisconsin's highways, from easily-recognized facts to the little-known trivia. It is also meant to change as the state highway system changes."