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The National Highway Association, 1911-1925 In 1913, the AAA described a transcontinental road trip as a Western “adventure with water as scarce as gas, no bridges over spans greater that fifty feet, and signboards about 1,000 miles apart.” Still, the National Highway Association (NHA) printed thousands of maps showing broad red lines spanning the land and representing proposed highways to promote an interstate system . The fact that the roads did not in fact exist seemed not to deter public imagination. For example, in 1915, Emily Post thought she would take the Lincoln Highway across the continent. But a wiser friend advised her that “it’s an imaginary line like the equator . . . Once you get beyond the Mississippi the roads are trails of mud and sand . . . wild and dangerous; full of . . . outlaws and ‘bad men’ . . . Tell me, where do you think you are going to stop? These are not towns; they are only names on a map, or at best two shacks and a saloon!” Although some NHA maps may have engaged in fantasy, several did evolve into important highways, such as the National Old Trails route, which ultimately became the West’s fabled Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles  and U.S. Interstate 40 in the East .
Mulford, John C., Chief Cartographer.
Map of the Canada - Kansas City - Gulf Road.
Issued under the joint auspices of: National Highway Association and Canada - Kansas City Gulf Road Association, 1915.
Map of the National Old Trails Road; The Grand Canyon Route.
Kansas City, Missouri: National Old Trails Road Association, 1922.
U.S. 40 National Old Trails Road.
Registered Service International, ca. 1925.
The NHA's innovative and well-designed maps surpassed in quality privately issued maps at a time when oil company were just beginning to issue their maps. The NHA's proposed U.S. Tour Book , although never completed, contained maps using easy-to-read symbols, striking shaded relief, and color lithography, all of which rival the better road maps of today . The NHA was well funded by corporate sponsors who stood to gain from an interstate highway system. The list of small businesses which sponsored the Colorado-Gulf Highway in 1922 indicates that they too regarded the maps as an important marketing tool. To oblige its sponsors, the NHA took considerable cartographic liberties and relocated communities on the map so that they lay along the route of the proposed highways . The NHA also invoked economic arguments to convince conservative farmers that good roads brought prosperity, as illustrated on the map of Pineville, Kentucky: the contrasting photographs of good and bad roads clearly demonstrated that improved roads were the only choice for marketing crops. The NHA's final argument was that of national defense and unity. A national highway system would not only bind the country together but would also provide the military with access from coast to coast. It was viewed as essential to the nation as the Panama Canal . Eventually, by 1925, such arguments led the federal government to embark on the first interstate highway system. Today's post-war interstates with their red-and-blue shields differ markedly from the first interstates. They connect regional centers and strive to avoid the congestion of small town traffic. Yet many of the same arguments - especially national defense - brought them about and the enacting legislation was essentially the same. It is now inconceivable to think of traveling without them.
U.S. Tour Book.
Washington, D.C.: National Highways Association, 1914.
Mulford, John C., Chief Cartographer.
National Highways Map of the State of New Jersey.
Washington, D.C., National Highways Association, 1915.
Colorado Highway Gulf.
Washington, D.C.: National Highways Association, 1922.
Davis, Charles Henry, with the assistance of Stanley E. Bates and Will Ward Duffield.
Pineville, Kentucky: Why Living Is Costly Versus Middlesboro, Kentucky: How to Cut the Cost.
Washington, D.C.: National Highways Association, 1916.