William Dwiggins (1880-1956) – Typographer and all rounder

William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956) was an American type designer and typographer.  He was well rounded and was loved for his prolific work as an illustrator, book designer, type designer, playwright, (puppets) and author.

Dwiggins was born in Martinsville, Ohio in 1880, he had studied East in Chicago, and then he moved to Boston.  Between the years 1917-1918, he became the acting director of the Harvard University Press.  He also worked for the Yale Universty Press, designing jackets, endpapers, bindings and posters.

Dwiggins was known for his “Metro” series of typefaces, the first designed specifically for newspaper headlines.  He produced that in 1929 when he won the gold medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

The series comprised of four weights: Metroblack, a husky, virile letter; Metromedium, a less bold, yet colorful, eye gripping face; Metrolite, the typographic synonym for daintiness; and Metrothin, a typographic delight of inimitable grace and delicacy.


He brought Metro out in 1929 that contributed to him winning the gold medal for the Institute of Graphic Arts. Electra in 1935, Caledonia in 1939 and Eldorado in 1953. Caledonia was one of the most widely used book typefaces in America.

He created the typefaces Caledonia and Electra types that were used specifically for books.  Caledonia became the preferred type for printing of every sort: Books and periodicals, as well as a variety of commercial and advertising work – Caledonia was a supremely legible type.


Electra Specifications

Dwiggins presented Electra typeface in 1937.  It featured no sharp contrast between thick and thin strokes. The italic of Electra is more accurately an oblique roman and is quite readable.  Both the caps and lowercase feature rather sharp cut serifs.  It is a thin face, more delicate than Caledonia.  The serifs are equal at both sides of the main stems of caps and lowercase.  The serif at the bottom of the lowercase has an upward facing inclination. The lowercase j features a sharpened descender which turns slightly left.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 10.38.18 am

Graphic Designer

He created the original logo for General Motors and is said to be the one who coined the term “graphic designer” – before this graphic designers had been called “commercial artists”.  He did this so as to distinguish his production from that of the private presses.

Look and Feel of Books

Dwiggins designed dozens of typefaces and was the author of books on advertising layout and typography. He established the ‘look and feel’ of more than 350 books for Alfred A. Knopf Books from 1926-1956.  He preferred to keep his symbols and illustrations set apart from the flow of type.


He also was an illustrator for children’s books. His drawings for Poe Tales and for Stevenson Dr.Jekyll and Mr Hyde are excellent for the sparing use of colour as his black and white illustrations attest to this.


The above is an example of his Metro and Electra typefaces.


Dwiggins was a skilled calligrapher.  His hand-lettered title pages, running head, picture caption books have a beautiful individualised touch.

His binding has paper covers in warm, soft shades, with high calico backs and fine gold lettering and very rich decoration.

He also contributed to producing professional manuals for his industry.  He wrote “Layout in Advertising”, a desk manual outlining methods for approaching layout problems.  All the illustrations he drew himself instead of using existing advertisements.

Text and Typography: Leading, Kerning, Tracking, and Justification – Encyclopedia of Design

Typography is, from the perspective of newcomers, plagued with confusing terminology. On the other hand, the technical vocabulary does allow for serious and precise discussion and manipulation of text. Let’s take a look at some of the key terminology. Leading and Line Spacing Leading isn’t what you probably think it is.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.