Vintage Road Maps - Just Up The Road A Piece

Courtesy of Rand McNally

Vintage road maps are a joy to collect and in most instances very inexpensive. Some collectors try to collect maps from certain decades. Others concentrate on road maps that were issued by oil companies through their gas stations or maps that were issued by each state, province or local community. The range is unlimited and for the collector a guarantee that each visit to a yard sale or flea market will turn up an item not in the collection.

How did the road map become such a collectible? Well, we tend to think of today’s car, and road system and never really think of what it was like at the start of the 20th Century. Cars were starting to become popular, but roads to say the least were not in very good condition. Out in one’s car there were no road signs, so one had to stop every few miles to ask someone for directions. That must be where the famous term, "Just up the road a piece - you cannot miss it" came from. The only real road maps were from the 1890’s. These maps had been prepared by local bicycle clubs to give cyclists information on the local road conditions (grades, material of the road surface, curves, hills). These old bicycle maps are very collectible.

In 1901 the first real road map for cars appeared. By 1915 more cars were appearing on the roads and oil companies were expanding their network of gas stations to serve the driving public. Led by Gulf Oil the first road maps appeared at the gas stations and were being given out. Road maps became an item to bring in repeat customers. I can remember customers coming into my father’s Phillips 66 gas station in New Jersey in the 1960’s spinning the rack and taking the road map that was of interest to them. The maps were free. Companies were happy to "eat" the cost for the map - it was an advertisement for not only their gasoline, but oil, tires and other services. Each Texaco map has the company motto - "Trust Your Car To The Man Who Wears The Star". Also a blank space on the map for the local gas station owner to put his name and address.

Sadly like everything else maps in the gas station are no longer free, but have to be purchased. In addition, how many gas stations even exit with real mechanics any longer? At my father’s Phillips 66 I had to not only pump the gas, but, check under the hood, clean all the windows, tail lights, check the tire pressure, and then ask everyone to step out so I could vacuum the inside of the car. From time to time the company sent around undercover inspectors and if an item was missed my father was fined.

With the end of World War I and Henry Ford’s use of the Assembly Line - the automobile became very affordable to almost everyone. Remember that one of the key ideas of Henry Ford’s was to pay his workers enough so that each could afford to purchase the automobile that was being manufactured.

The first official state highway maps appeared in the mid 1920’s. Each was pocket sized issued by the new state highway departments. The pocket sized folded maps showed state and country roads and in some instances even described the road surface. The Official Map for the State of Wisconsin listed the various road surfaces, gravel, clay, and sandy.

The Goodrich Tire Company began to give out maps shortly before 1920. The first maps were primitive. The first maps had lines from town to town which indicated one could go - from here to there, but did not explain how. As the years progressed tire company maps came to rival oil company maps for their beautiful artwork. The 1930 Goodyear Tire Company map is in three colourful panels. It folds out to reveal a tire in the centre. The artwork includes cars, coming and going across the map and a Zeppelin or Blimp flying over the city in a night time scene. A crossover collectible. Maps, aviation, 1920’s artwork, what more could a collector wish for.

In 1927 maps underwent a change in the US. A national highway numbering system was introduced. Route 1 went past my house in New Jersey. Visit Key West, Florida and the sign indicates Route 1 starts and ends there. It provided map makers with information to make driving easier.

Road maps have been issued and distributed for special events; such as the 1933 Century of Progress in Chicago, or the 1939 New York World’s Fair in New York City and even for the 1967 Canadian Expo in Montreal. Ads and maps have appeared in national magazines to advertise specific events. The White Rose Oil Company of Canada ran ads in Maclean’s magazine for Expo 67. A map of Canada which indicated great places to stop along the way prior to reaching or departing Expo 67. It was not only an ad for Expo 67, but for almost every community across the country. In addition, it was a celebration of Canada’s 100th Birthday.

A fantastic 1929 Shell Oil Company map features a Shell gas station in the centre of the map. On the rest of the map appear 5 cars, a wooden speed boat racing across the water and an aircraft flying overhead. One car is parked at the Shell station waiting to be filled with gasoline and have someone check the oil.

In 1932-33 Shell Oil Company issued maps with the state license plate. One featured a woman in a open convertible with a terrier dog. At the top of the map is the name of the state that it covers. The license plate appears along with the Shell Oil Company logo in the corner. The maps are brightly coloured, yellow, red, and blue. A second version of the map has a man and woman in a convertible with the women’s scarf flying in the breeze. Maps were being manufactured and distributed to the driving public to encourage them to travel more and spend money on automobile products - such as gasoline, oil, tires, batteries.

Two vintage Canadian road maps are connected to Expo 67 in Montreal and the Centennial of Canada (1867-1967). One in my collection is a map of Northern Ontario of 1967 which features a trapper looking down at the modern highway. He represents 1867 and the highway 1967.The map lists the newspapers, radio and police services of the area.

There is one map in my collection that I prize the most and it is not even made of paper. In the 1950’s The New Jersey Turnpike sold a drinking glass map. It was sold in the rest stops gift shops or restaurants. It stands 61/2" tall and is a map of the entire New Jersey Turnpike. Each exit is marked on the map in bright orange and the highway bright blue. Slogan on the glass states - "118 Miles of Effortless Driving". My house in New Jersey was right across from the New Jersey Turnpike - Exit 9.

If one does an internet search road map collectors clubs will appear and sites where vintage maps of all years and types can be purchased. Check eBay and other sites for maps for sale.

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