In 1931 the DIN institute published DIN 1451. It contained several standard typefaces for mechanically engraved lettering, hand-lettering, lettering stencils and printing types. These were to be used in the areas of signage, traffic signs, wayfinding, lettering on technical drawings and technical documentation.
The origins of DIN 1451 Engschrift (Condensed) for hand lettering go back to 1905, when the Königlich Preußische Eisenbahn-Verwaltung (Royal Prussian Railway Administration) standardized the lettering to be used on all its rolling stock in a master drawing (pattern drawing) known as Musterzeichnung IV 44. In 1915 the then Prussian-Hessian Railways decided that all lettering on railway platforms and stations had to be executed according to the 1905 master drawing as well. As a by-product of the merger of all German railway companies into Deutsche Reichsbahn in 1920, the Prussian railway typeface had already become a national de facto standard before the DIN Committee of Typefaces took up its work for DIN 1451 a few years later.
The DIN Committee of Typefaces was headed by the Siemens engineer Ludwig Goller (1884–1964), who also led the central standardization office at Siemens & Halske in Berlin between 1920 and 1945. DIN Mittelschrift (Medium) serves as an accompanying weight of regular width. DIN Breitschrift (Extended) was also included, but it has never been widely used. In order to enable quick and easy reproduction, all drawings were based on a coarse grid and could be executed with compass and rulers. The standard sheet DIN 1451-Schriften (typefaces) was released in 1931 as a pre-norm. With some minor changes DIN 1451 was officially released as a norm in 1936. In 1938 Temporary Order No. 20 required DIN 1451 to be used on the new German Autobahn (motorways). This and other similar regulations resulted in DIN 1451 dominating German public lettering until today.
In 1923 Stempel was the first type foundry that produced printing types according to a DIN Standard. The design follows DIN 16, an earlier standard for oblique lettering on technical drawings which had been released in 1919. In 1929, the Berthold type foundry released a similar typeface. DIN 16 had also been made available as lettering templates engraved in celluloid material for drafting use by the company of Filler and Fiebig in Berlin.
Within the scope of public and technical lettering the use of the DIN 1451 typefaces spread rapidly, once they were adopted. They were released as celluloid lettering stencils for smaller applications, as larger metal stencils for application to machinery, vehicles and airplanes, and as cast metal lettering for street and building signage. Printing types according to DIN 1451 have never been produced though. During World War II DIN 1451 was also adopted for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The 1943 version of DIN 1451 also included a showing of Cyrillic characters, although their design did not match the weight and proportions of DIN Mittelschrift.
Geometric sans serif lettering and typefaces were very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. At the Bauhaus the design of lettering on coarse grids was advocated by Herbert Bayer and Joost Schmidt during the Dessau period. Although being designed in a similar way, the DIN typefaces lacked elegance and did not take advantage from these design trends.
The transferable-lettering-sheet company, Letraset made several variants available in the 1970s. Also the Berthold type foundry adopted the DIN typefaces for their optomechanical phototype setting systems such as Staromat. In 1980 the DIN typefaces were redrawn by Adolf Gropp (1911–1996), a lettering artist from Frankfurt. The drawings were made on a finer grid. This enabled an exact definition of details such as the amount of overshoot of round characters (e.g. C, G and O) below the baseline and above the cap height. Also characters such as S for which an accurate construction drawing had never been made were now defined using lines and arcs for the new cutting plotters that were to be used for the lettering on motorway signage. A number of the glyphs were changed, in particular those for "a", "6" and "9" as well as "t" in DIN Engschrift. By the mid 1980s, Linotype adopted the redrawn DIN typefaces for digital photocomposition. Together with Adobe they released it as DIN Mittelschrift and DIN Engschrift in 1990. Thus the typefaces became part of the Adobe/Linotype PostScript typeface library. The use of DIN typefaces started to appear in the work of cutting edge graphic designers and design studios such as Uwe Loesch in Germany, Tel Design in the Netherlands as well as David Carson and April Greiman in the USA. Soon other leading designers began using DIN Mittelschrift and Engschrift, making it a popular option to other sans serif faces.