Introduction

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"California Highway Map, official tourist picture map." Courtesy the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Prior to the proliferation of mainstream automobile sales, travel for Americans meant taking the train, trolley, or standard horse and carriage. Traveling by road was not for the faint of heart and was considered a potentially dangerous adventure, limited to those with a purpose.

In the early twentieth century, the motorcar was a rich man’s toy and road conditions were often dismal. In the 1920s, as cars became more available to the average citizen, road conditions improved and leisure travel increased in popularity. Maps became readily available at gas stations and were often made free by companies that would profit from car, fuel, and related commodities. Auto clubs also provided maps for a subscription fee. The Automobile Association of America (A.A.A.) perfected route-specific, spiral-bound maps called “TripTik” travel planners, which continue to be produced for their members today but saw their heyday during pre-GPS guided road trips. They included not just routes, but also road conditions and improvements, attractions, and other points of interest. They were highly detailed and heavy with text. This created a boom in road map creation that continued until the gas shortages of the 1970s.