Road Maps: The American Way

Guest Curator – Robert French
Associate Professor of Geography (Retired)
at the University of Southern Maine

Like jazz music, the automobile road map is an American innovation and is just as much a part of American culture. Road maps brought much needed order to the national road system. Through both illustration and cartography, they manifest the changes in the American landscape resulting from the twentieth century’s “auto-mobility.” Their covers promoted a romance of the road that sold gas, oil, batteries, tires, and other products. Most significantly, road maps created a core of American values based on the freedom of the open road.

In this exhibition, you will see how road maps shaped this spirit – emphasizing a proud national history and promising a glorious future – through the magic of the automobile. The exhibition features a wide variety of maps and guidebooks from the first half of the twentieth century, published mostly by oil companies but also by automobile clubs, highway associations, and commercial map makers. So get out the road map to plot your course . . . and don’t forget to buy our brand of gas!