Morris Column


In 1855 the City of Berlin decided it needed to clean up the huge proliferation of illegal signs. A local inventor, Ernst Litfass, came up with the idea of a purpose-built column to act as an advertising medium to stop the fly posting on walls. The City gave him a monopoly to put up 100. In 1868 the City of Paris went one better and a local printer Gabriel Morris designed a poster column specifically for promoting cultural events. Initially used for theatres and books, later for films and magazines.  The columns became an integral part of the look of Paris streets.

Marcel Proust in his novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu describes the role of the columns in Parisian life saying he rushed out each morning to enjoy the "dreams offered to my imagination... by the colorful posters, still wet with glue..." In the film The Third Man the villain, Harry Lime, is seen using one of the Litfass columns in Vienna to escape into the sewers. This started a myth that the Paris columns were secret entrances for the Metro.  In fact both types simply contain street cleaning equipment although in recent years some of the bigger ones have been used to house public toilets.