Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The oil-company road map is a tangible record of the development of a purely American fascination with the automobile. In the early teens, the oil-company road map appeared for free in gas stations across America. Soon, as more and more Americans owned cars and began driving for pleasure, the oil-company road map became the primary medium through which Americans found their way on the ever growing network of the nation’s roads and highways. The maps were designed to advertise the products and services of a company, but also to encourage the motorist to travel and discover America.

Maps in America at the turn of the century were primarily geopolitical. Mountains, rivers, major cities, and political boundaries were far more significant to cartographers than the parallel ruts in the dirt that connected village to village. The invention of the bicycle and the newfound personal mobility it provided created a need for better roads and better maps. The automobile soon followed, and the maps were overprinted with a contrasting color to indicate roads appropriate for the car. By 1910, the model T had created a significant demand for maps, and guides like the Mendenhall Guide and Road Map of Connecticut began to appear. This map shows main routes, good roads, common roads and railroads. It also includes a step by step description of travel between major cities. Click the number to see enlarged maps The first oil-company road map appeared in the early teens. Although many companies claim to be the first to issue promotional maps, Gulf was the most prolific producer in the early teens. By the twenties, most major oil companies had some form of promotional map program. The covers often featured a man and a woman discovering the joy of driving through the countryside, enjoying the freedom and mobility the automobile offered. Gulf’s map number 11 shows a touring car with the top down, shooting into the landscape beneath the orange sun--the Gulf logo. The 1927 Standard Oil map of Ohio compares the motorist to the pioneer in the conegestoga wagon, blazing trails and discovering new lands. The Kentucky Standard Oil map of the same year has a three panel spread, depicting a motorist using a free map to plan their descent into the rolling valley below. Oil companies were encouraging the automobile owner to travel and explore the country--using their gasoline. Click the number to see enlarged maps

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