The Twentieth Century font family is a geometric sans serif created in 1937 to compete and keep up with the success of Bauhaus influenced typefaces like the hugely popular Futura® font family. As with its contemporaries, Twentieth Century is based on the formal geometry and simplicity of the German modernist aesthetic.
Sol Hess created Twentieth Century during his 50-year tenure at Lanston Monotype as Art Director. He had spent a good deal of his career redrawing Lanston’s existing catalogue, but he was especially adept at developing entirely new typefaces and adapting existing types to new technological standards.
After the rampant success of the New Typography and Paul Renner’s Futura, the Lanston foundry decided to develop Twentieth Century as a potential competitive response. Like Futura, it focused on the sparse geometric shapes of modernism, but incorporated a taller x-height and more even stroke contrast in the lowercases. Hess also chose to redraw and include experimental alternates that Renner had originally included in Futura, but then thrown out. These glyphs gave Twentieth Century a very modern, abstract accent.
Like many of Hess’ typefaces during this period, its development was undertaken before WWII, but the entire series of weights and italics was not completed until after the resolution of the conflict. Toward the end of the century, Monotype Imaging issued a version of Twentieth Century optimized for digital use– the Century Gothic™ font family; however, Century Gothic bears few aesthetic similarities to Twentieth.
Given its bold geometry and stylized approach, Twentieth Century is most often used in display work, headlines, and on occasion short text such as might be used in advertising. Lighter weights have been recommended and used for body text. Its experimental alternates were used in the titles of the 2008 James Bond film,