Road maps from an earlier day were a visual celebration of life on the motor trail. Their illustrations portrayed Americans, joy-filled and carefree, behind the wheel of a car: pushing seventy-five beneath an infinite azure sky, downshifting through tight esses on a winding country road or simply picnicking on a verdant hillside. Map covers were an exhilarating fresh air fiesta of the endless possibilities of motoring. Douglas Yorke, et. al., Hitting the Road, 1996 To sell their products, the oil companies used their road maps to promote motor travel by creating powerful, mythic images. They presented the motoring life as a great adventure and the road as a place of liberation and empowerment. Road map cover art stressed the allure of the open road. It turned the modern traveler into a frontiersman and explorer, subduing the wilderness through the progress of Yankee technology. (The use of historical imagery by the oil companies is discussed in a later section of this exhibition.) A Colonial-Beacon cover displayed the company icon, with rays of light showing the way and representing the radial roads that carry the motorist from the city to the fresh air of the country . A 1928 Shell illustration equated the auto with a speedboat and airplane . A whimsical Union '76 cover showed vacationers setting out excitedly for the open road . Sunrise Trails offered the romance and adventure of touring Long Island , while coursing the coastal highways in a convertible still proves irresistible today . Can one improve on the excitement provided by the power of speedboats, diving airplanes, race cars, and fierce lions [20, 21]?
The linkage of the power of the automobile with freedom and adventure found still further expression in other road map covers: the art-Deco appeal of a sporty car on the open road , dramatic city skylines , a golden archer firing great arrows , and free-flying geese . In 1929 a Standard attendant might have appeared at your service , but national service and a triumph of technological progress prevailed on patriotic covers during World War 2 [27; also 75 on opposite wall].
Pacific Highway Maps.
San Francisco: Pacific Highway Association of California, 1928.
A 1933 Shell graphic used a collage of automobile number plates to suggest the wide ranging travel possibilities made available by the automobile . Another cover, from a 1932 Diamond Oil map, displayed the pleasures of the camp fire, suggesting a return to frontier days, even as its verso image reassured the motorist that gas and help were still available, even in the wilds [29; see also 75 on opposite wall]. And at the end of the journey, when the motorist sought to return to urban civilization, he was once again guided by the Beacon [30, see 15].
Shell Metropolitan Map: New York and Vicinity: Long Island.
Chicago: The H. M. Gousha Company for Shell Oil, 1933.
If most women portrayed on road maps bore a resemblance to a young Debbie Reynolds, then illustrations of men must have been clipped from Arrow Shirt adds. While the autos they drove and the clothes they wore change in timely fashion, their appearance as white Anglo-Americans is constant. Even service station attendants were represented as white males. Racial and ethnic minorities appeared infrequently. When they did, they were portrayed according to the stereotypes of the time. African Americans were never featured on covers but they did occasionally show up as field workers in the background; they served as scenery. A 1931 map of Arkansas portrayed Black women picking cotton in a stereotypical scene . An earlier KYSO map of Georgia embodied all that is offensive to the present-day viewer: a cartoonish Black field hand - holding a watermelon, no less - contrasted sharply with a handsome, rugged and White male peach picker featured on the opposite panel . The stereotypes held of Native Americans by the dominant White culture treated them as noble savages who had stepped aside to allow European Settlers to take their lands. In 1925, for example, Rand McNally depicted a Native blazing a trail for the whites to follow, even as it physically removed the Native from the mainstream path of progress embodied by the automobile [57, 100]. On the other hand, Native Americans commonly appeared in iconic form: White culture has long appropriated Native-related terms because of their connotations of heritage and rootedness; oil companies followed suit [31, 96].
The Red Indian Pathfinder Road Map: Ontario, Quebec, Maritime Provinces 1940.
Montreal: McColl-Frontenac Oil Company Ltd., 1940.
When women were depicted on the covers of road maps, they were generally shown in passive or domestic roles, most commonly as passengers being driven by their husbands [e.g., 17, 19, 22, 57, and, in the case behind you, 97, 98, 99]. Oil companies were slow to acknowledge, in their road maps at least, the increasing autonomy of women in the 1920s. It was not until 1927 that a Shell map portrayed a woman in an active role, intruding into the male realm of golf . In 1931, an avant garde map photographed a woman driving a man  while another depicted a woman driving by herself and reading a road map . Thereafter, a number of road maps showed women "taking the wheel" from their male counterparts [28, 38, 39, 41; also 102 in the center case at the end of the gallery]. Women's new-found autonomy was not complete, however. They continued to be used as a marketing tool , while one map cover suggested the beginning of the stereotype of the "woman driver" . Their autonomy was also short-lived, with women being shunted back into domestic roles by 1950; even so, the oil companies still had to acknowledge women as a force in purchasing their products .
Shell Motor Road Guide.
Chicago: Rand McNally and Company for Roxana Petroleum Corporation, 1927.