Not Just a Pretty Typeface: Graphis Master Ed Benguiat Recognized for His Wartime Heroism

Last month, one of design’s greats was given a top honor for his achievements reaching far beyond the world of design. Famed typographer and graphic designer Edward Benguiat, who passed away in October of 2020 at age 92, was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery. Dating back to the United States Civil War, the 639-acre military burial ground is the final resting place of honorably discharged war veterans, including Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft.

Benguiat, born in 1927 in New York City, enlisted in the Air Force at age 16—with a forged birth certificate—to fight in World War II. He ended up stationed in Italy doing extremely dangerous photo reconnaissance, flying P-51 Mustang fighter jets at low altitude over enemy territory to provide visual tactical insight for the Allies—a task that required not only razor-sharp flying skills, but immense bravery.

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After the war, this man of many talents found work as a jazz percussionist before studying design at the Workshop School of Advertising Art, under renowned graphical artist and calligrapher Paul Standard. It was there that he developed his signature design aesthetic of dramatic display typefaces, tight spacing, and very high x-heights.

Over the course of his career, Benguiat was a graphic designer at Esquire and a design director for Photo Lettering Inc. before helping set up the International Typeface Corporation, where he served as vice president. There, he crafted over 600 typeface designs, including several we all know well—Tiffany, ITC Bookman, Panache, Benguiat, and Benguiat Gothic, just to name a few. These latter two were used for many of Stephen King’s works in the 1980s, but you might recognize them from their more recent use in the logo and opening credits of the hit shows Stranger Things, Star Trek: Generations, and Star Trek: First Contact.

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He also designed and redesigned logotypes for countless publications (The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Sports Illustrated, to name a few), films (Planet of the Apes, Super Fly), and corporations (IBM, AT&T, and so, so many more). When he wasn’t designing typefaces, he was teaching design at New York’s School of Visual Arts for over 50 years, starting in 1961. He was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame in 2000.

A beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, and a friend and mentor to many inside and outside of design, Benguiat was a hero both in the military and throughout the rest of his life. We at Graphis were thrilled to hear of the well-deserved honor he received last week.

To learn more about the legendary Ed Benguiat, check out this TDC interview.

Author: Holly McWhorter