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Franklin Gothic by Morris Fuller Benton

Franklin Gothic is a typeface designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1902 for American Type Founders (ATF). The typeface originally consisted of a single, “extra-bold” roman design, common practice of many gothic faces of the time. (Olson 106) In the following years, Benton added condensed, extra condensed, italic and shaded versions. The term gothic is actually used to describe blackletter faces, while grotesque more accurately defines a sans serif. Franklin Gothic could be seen as an American grotesque meant to compete with such European sans serif typefaces as Akzidenz Grotesk, released by the German type foundry Berthold just four years prior. (Olson 106)

Franklin Gothic can be discerned from other modern sans serif typefaces because of its strong roman form and some of its quirkier characteristics. It has a rather large x-height. The lowercase “a” is two-storied; the lowercase “g” retains a bowl and loop and has a prominent ear that sometimes rises above the x-height line. The tail of the capital “Q” curls similarly to the ear of the lowercase “g”. The strokes taper near junctions, like in the capital “N” or lowercase “d”. The capital “A” and “M” has a thinner first stem. All the letterforms, both lower and uppercase, have angled terminals. (from Benton to Berlow)

Born in Milwaukee in 1872, by age eleven Morris had already gained an interest in type and printing. With the help of his father, Linn Boyd Benton, Morris learned to set type and spent time working with his own printing press at his family’s home. He designed and printed such small projects as admission tickets for music classes and local shows and receipts for his father’s business. (Cost 30) Morris spent four years at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and graduated in 1896 as a mechanical engineer. Only a few months after graduating, Morris joined his father at ATF in New York designing machines and learning about type and typefaces. (Cost 31)

Boyd, played an important role in the American printing industry with several of his inventions, most notable the pantographic punchcutting machine. Boyd also formed ATF, an influential conglomerate of over twenty American foundries in 1892 including his Milwaukee foundry, Benton, Waldo & Co. 

In 1900, Morris Fuller Benton became ATF’s chief type designer. He designed over 200 typefaces, including Century Schoolbook, News Gothic, Eagle and Hobo. In addition to his own typeface designs, he also translated sketches by other designers for use with the most current printing technologies and spent much of his time reviewing and revising type drawings before approving them. Morris’ training as a mechanical engineer aided him in his work as a type designer, giving him a “ferocious eye for detail” and high standard of excellence in addition to his strong work ethic. (Olson 107) According to his daughter Caroline, “he was never adequately compensated for his many contributions to ATF.” She also recalls that “If things didn’t go right at the foundry, then he was the one that had to straighten them out.”

Morris would spend his Saturdays in the company’s typographic library, researching each new typeface idea and studying the market. Richard Marder, grandson of an original founder of ATF, John Marder, remembers seeing him there: “I used to spend a lot of my time on Saturdays in the library… Benton’s inspiration came from that library. That’s one of the reasons it was created.” (Cost 33)

He spent his entire career at ATF, retiring from business altogether in 1937. Morris Fuller Benton died of an embolism in 1948.

Since Benton’s death, there have been several reproductions of Franklin Gothic from different foundries, adding additional weights and widths to the family. In the 1970s, the International Typeface Corporation (ITC) developed the font as a phototype. ITC also worked to develop a digital version in the 1980s, commissioning Victor Caruso to create four new weights in both roman and italic. (Olson 107)

In 1980, ITC revived Franklin Gothic whilst retaining the characteristics of the original typeface. Slight increases were made in the x-height and character width to distinguish the face from Benton’s design. “The general attitude, even among purists, is that ITC Franklin Gothic is a worthy design. It’s also one of ITC’s best-selling typefaces,” Haley explains.

In 2005, ITC began collaborating with Font Bureau to “rebrand” Franklin Gothic with plans to expand the family to 72 fonts. David Berlow, head designer and co-founder of Font Bureau regards Franklin Gothic as “one of the most well-known and respected faces, particularly in the newspaper industry and advertising markets.” The updated family will not only include heavy display faces, but fonts will be reworked for use at smaller reading sizes as well. (de Jong, Purvis, and Friedl 95)

The ITC Franklin Gothic font family currently contains roman and italic versions in book, medium, demi and heavy weights as well as condensed widths. There are also roman and italic compressed widths of book and demi, and extra compressed roman book and demi fonts.


“Franklin Gothic is one of the most well-known and respected faces, particularly in the newspaper industry and advertising markets.” David Berlow, head designer and co-founder of Font Bureau

In 1980, ITC revived Franklin Gothic whilst retaining the characteristics of the original typeface. Slight increases were made in the x-height and character width to distinguish the face from Benton’s design. “The general attitude, even among purists, is that ITC Franklin Gothic is a worthy design. It’s also one of ITC’s best-selling typefaces,” Haley explains.

“Every composing room, whether equipped for commercial work or newspaper composition, needs a wide variety of good Gothic faces. They are always in style.” American Type Founders Company, type specimen book 1923


Works Cited

Cost, Patricia A. “Linn Boyd Benton, Morris Fuller Benton, and Typemaking at ATF.” Printing History. Nos. 31/32: 27-44. http://www.printinghistory.org/htm/journal/articles/31-32-Cost-Benton.pdf

Olson, Ansel M. “Franklin Gothic.” Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces. Eds. Meggs, Phillip B., and McKelvery, Roy. New York: RC Publications, 2000. 106-111.

“Franklin Gothic: from Benton to Berlow.” Illuminating Letters. Fonts.com. 2009, http://www.fonts.com/AboutFonts/Articles/IlluminatingLetters/

Neil Macmillan. “An A-Z of Type Designers.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. 45-46.

de Jong, Cees, Alston Purvis, and Friedrich Friedl. “Creative Type: A Sourcebook of Classical and Contemporary Letterforms”New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005. 94-99

Dodd, Robin. “From Gutenberg to OpenType: An Illustrated History of Type from the Earliest Letterforms to the Latest Digital Fonts.” Vancouver: Hartley & Marks Publishers, 2006. 92-95

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