Navigating by automobile at the dawn of the 20th century was a difficult proposition because maps appropriate for this new form of transportation were essentially nonexistent.
By the late 1890s and early 1900s, state road books, route books, automobile road guides and route lists were regionally available to aid the motorist.
Even with the early route books and road guides, it still was difficult for the early motorist traveling along the Lincoln Highway. The early methods for showing the auto road tended to be descriptive in words and pictures.
Typical entries in these automobile guides often were confusing and left travelers navigating using local landmarks, rivers, statues, cliffs and man-made structures. A typical entry might read: “Enter Washington Park, curving slightly right and immediately taking left fork at open square, passing refectory building over to right.”
As roads were improved, organizations such as the Automobile Association of America introduced road guides in an effort to aid and assist their members.
Soon automobile clubs, road and highway associations and other travel-related organizations sponsored or published road guides during the first three decades of the early 20th century.
Such publications included the Automobile Green Book, official guide book of the Automobile Legal Association of Massachusetts; King’s Official Route Guide, published by Sidney J. King of Chicago; the Interstate Automobile Tourists’ Guide, published by F. S. Blanchard and Company of Worchester, Massachusetts; and the Official Automobile Blue Book, published by the Automobile Blue Book Publishing Company of New York.
After 1910, the automobile age began to accelerate as a parade of businesses and commercial organizations began to offer brand name promotional maps and guides to the motoring public.
By 1912, oil companies, such as Vacuum Oil Company, the Union Oil Company of Los Angeles and the Monarch Oil Refining Company, were offering free, or nearly free, maps to their customers. The Gulf Oil Company has long proclaimed itself to be the sole initiator and developer of the first free oil company road map.
Prompted by the suggestion of William B. Akin, a local advertising man from Pittsburgh, the company mailed out thousands of free Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, maps to registered motorists in the county.
The success of this marketing idea led Gulf Oil and other oil companies that joined the fray to produce more detailed and colorful maps for motorists.