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Auto Club Maps

When the first automobiles started rolling off assembly lines more than 100 years ago, motorists quickly discovered they were going to need some help getting around.

The motor car liberated travelers from the limiting confines of their own neighborhood, and suddenly the open road beckoned in a way it never had before. But where did that road go?

The maps that existed weren’t much help. For some towns there were street plans that may have been useful in a strictly local sense, and mostly for the use of bicyclists and drivers of horse-drawn carriages, but state and regional maps served travelers on different highways – those made of steel rails. And a railroad map was not going to be much use to the driver of a car.

Not surprisingly, the need for motoring information and assistance was not unmet for long. In 1899 the first automobile club was formed, and within six years the American Automobile Association published its first map, “Staten Island, New York.”

From that time forward, AAA and other auto clubs, such as the American Legal

Association and the National Automobile Association, have provided a bounty of maps and touring guides, among a host of other services, to help car travelers. These publications, linked as they are to our common history and packed with interesting detail and attractive graphics, are eagerly sought by collectors today.

The few examples pictured here and the chronology outlined below will provide an introduction to a fascinating subject and a popular focus of paper collectors across the country.

In 1910 the AAA hired its first full-time draftsman, and in the following year published its first state map, “New York,” and its first strip maps issued in booklet form, “Trail to Sunset.”

In 1913 the AAA published “U.S.A.,” the first comprehensive guide to auto routes anywhere and issued the first sheet map with a copyright notice, “Philadelphia.”

The first color on a AAA map appeared in 1916, on “Pennsylvania,” and by 1923 all AAA maps were issued in at least two colors (black and blue).

In 1925 numbers and letters were introduced along the borders of AAA maps to allow the use of an index. In 1926 the recently adopted U.S. highway numbers first appeared on a AAA map, “Northeastern,” and separate detour and road condition maps were published.

By 1927 U.S. highway numbers and mileages appear on all AAA maps. In 1929 the AAA state map series was standardized to three colors (black, blue, red). The Triptik system of customized routings was launched in 1930.

In 1933 the state map series expanded to four colors, but reverted to three the following year, and in 1941 went back to a two-color format (black and blue).

In 1936 the city map series began with the introduction of “Boston and Vicinity” and “Long Island.”

“Colorado-Utah-Wyoming,” the first multi-state map, was published in 1938, and “Kansas-Nebraska” followed in 1939.

The year 1942 saw the first use of a single red line for multi-lane roads and a double red line for divided highways.

Through the ensuing years a number of other “firsts” marked AAA’s continuing production of maps, including the first use of Landsat imagery – on the club’s 1976 “Idaho-Montana” – and the first use of automated (computer) cartography – in the Detroit & Vicinity Inset on its 1983 “Michigan.”

The American Automobile Association is the country’s largest auto club, currently serving more than 58 million members. AAA cartographers prepare more than 70 different maps each year, and in conjunction with its various affiliates and other mapmakers oversee the production of another 200 or so, all available only to AAA members.

The Automobile Club of Southern California in Los Angeles and the California State Automobile Association in San Francisco are AAA affiliates that currently maintain their own cartography departments and prepare their own maps.

At various times over the past years, many other auto clubs have formed – and some have faded away or been gathered under the AAA umbrella. A few of those, whose names may appear on maps that collectors with turn up, include the Keystone Automobile Club, the American Automobile Touring Alliance, Cornhusker Motor Club, and various clubs formed by oil companies, insurance companies and other retailers.

Occasionally, the AAA gets requests for old maps, especially from people trying to find the original location of highways such as U.S. Route 66 that have disappeared from today’s maps. But they do not maintain a supply of old maps and have none available; instead they refer collectors to dealers in this type of material.

Dealers can also be a good source for locating old road maps and atlases issued by auto clubs in other countries, such as Italy (Reale Automobile Club d'Italia), Sweden (Automobilklubbens Karta Över Sverige), and the United Kingdom (.AA, formerly The Automobile Association).

If you are seeking information on a particular auto club map, you are welcome to contact me via our contact page. I may be able to help.



Poster credit: Dave Leach

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