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Footpaths to Freeways: The Evolution of Michigan Road Maps

This exhibit traces how roads have been depicted on Michigan maps from the time it was a territory to the present. In addition to maps, it includes photographs, unique short-lived route guides and artifacts. Maps evolved in step with the road system and showed advances such as named roads which were in time replaced with numbered state and federal routes. Publishers include map giants Rand McNally and Gousha who also supplied oil companies with their ubiquitous freely distributed roadmaps.

Part 3: Automobile Route Guides

This exhibit traces how roads have been depicted on Michigan maps from the time it was a territory to the present. In addition to maps, it includes photographs, unique short-lived route guides and artifacts. Maps evolved in step with the road system and showed advances such as named roads which were in time replaced with numbered state and federal routes. Publishers include map giants Rand McNally and Gousha who also supplied oil companies with their ubiquitous freely distributed roadmaps.

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Official Automobile Blue Book, 1915. Vol. 4: Middle West. Cover and sample route page. Directions are from Lansing, Michigan to Napoleon, Michigan (marked in red on reference map).

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Official Automobile Blue Book, 1915. Vol. 4: Middle West

Although extremely useful, early motorists found these guides hard to follow and rather cumbersome to use. According to one traveler "Whoever had the seat of honor beside the driver got the Blue Book job and spent the day with his nose glued to the fine-typed pages and read aloud each direction, but never quite in time to prevent the wrong turn." (Hokanson, D. The Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America. 1988. p. 91)

Rand McNally Photo Auto Guide. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1907. Showing Route Between Detroit and Toledo. Reproduced with permission from Newberry Library

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Rand McNally Photo Auto Guide

An interesting variant of the guidebook was the photographic guide. Introduced in 1905 and issued by several companies, these guides contained photographs of the major strategic turns with captions indicating the direction of the turn along with the mileage to the next one. The accompanying strip maps in the guidebooks were linked to the turns portrayed in the photographs. The Rand McNally "Photo-Auto" Guides, twenty- five of which were issued between 1906 and 1910, were the most ubiquitous.

R.E. Olds test driving the curved dash Oldsmobile in Lansing, Michigan. Reproduced with permission from Michigan State University Archives.

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R.E. Olds test driving the curved dash Oldsmobile in Lansing, Michigan

During the first decade of the twentieth century the conditions of the roads were still quite dreadful. Over 90 percent of the roads outside the cities in 1904 were still dirt, while the others were composed of only gravel, stones, or shells. Dusty when dry, filled with bottomless chuckholes when wet, and with few bridges, the roads were often impassible. They were also without signposts.

"When my father bought his first Ford roadster in 1904, he tried to drive it to Port Huron. In one ten-mile stretch between Lapeer and Imlay City he got stuck in the middle of the road eight times and each time he had to be hauled out by a farmer with a team of horses. When he got to Imlay City he had the Ford put on a railroad flatcar and sent it back home. It was seven more years before roads improved enough so that he dared try it again." E. Love. The Situation in Flushing. New York: Harper & Row, 1965, p. 184

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