Since D.F. Balton founded BALTON & SONS SIGN COMPANY in 1875, the family has produced most of the signs in Memphis and surrounding areas. For eighty-six years, theater marquees, signs on Beale Street, and even the most successful commercial sign ever built, the original Holiday Inn Great Sign, was designed and produced by the BALTON & SONS SIGN COMPANY. As the company expanded, newer concerns wanting immediate respect in the Mid-South bought out the BALTON & SONS name. But, the Baltons were not ready to give up the manufacturing of signs. In 1961, H.A. BALTON SIGN COMPANY was founded and for the next fourty-nine years they were producing landmark signage such as the Memphis Angel Food's twenty foot diameter ice cream bucket sign. In 1995, PRECISION SIGNS was opened in order to take advantage of the latest technologies to create or refurbish specialty designed signs inspired by the love of vintage signage and architecture. PRECISION SIGNS refurbished and brought back to life the famous Sputnik sign in Memphis. Their craftsmanship and inspired designs made their new signs instant icons. Pride in the sign trade and the family name led the Baltons to regain ownership of the BALTON & SONS name and eventually bring BALTON & SONS, H.A. BALTON, and PRECISION SIGNS together under one roof, and one name, BALTON SIGN COMPANY.
The true era of modern advertising began with the explosion of newspapers, flyers and catalogues of the mid-1800's. At the same time, the use of gas lighting, then the invention of the electric bulb, created a whole new technology in signage. The invention of the neon tube, which could bend into countless shapes and came in many colors, was another explosive invention. Electronic illuminated signs have been a distinctly American industry ever since.
The "Great Sign" was the roadside sign used by Holiday Inn during its original era of expansion from the 1950s to 1970s. It was perhaps the company's most successful form of advertising. It was extremely large and eye-catching, but was expensive to construct and operate. The manufacturer of the sign was Balton & Sons Sign Company, and it was originally designed by sketch artists Gene Barber and Roland Alexander.