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Footpaths to Freeways: The Evolution of Michigan Road Maps

This exhibit traces how roads have been depicted on Michigan maps from the time it was a territory to the present. In addition to maps, it includes photographs, unique short-lived route guides and artifacts. Maps evolved in step with the road system and showed advances such as named roads which were in time replaced with numbered state and federal routes. Publishers include map giants Rand McNally and Gousha who also supplied oil companies with their ubiquitous freely distributed roadmaps.

Part 6: The Rise and Fall of Oil Company Road Maps

With the standardization of route markings, oil companies, such as Shell, now became the principal distributor of free road maps during this period, contracting with companies such as Rand McNally and Gousha who would produce them.

The covers of these maps were interesting in their own right as well. During the 1930s, recognized commercial artists of the time were engaged to produce oil map covers. Robert Lee created Shell’s widely acclaimed license plate map covers of 1933 and 1934, while Peter Helck, the dean of American automotive artists, produced Sinclair’s five-panel covers of 1936 and 1937.

Click on thumbnail image to view larger image file.

Shell metropolitan map Detroit and vicinity. Chicago: H.M. Gousha, 1932.

Shell Auto Map Michigan. Chicago: H.M. Gousha, 1933.

Sinclair Road Map Michigan. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1936.

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Sinclair Road Map Michigan. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1937.