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Pennsylvania in Old Road Atlases

by Harold Cramer

This discussion covers only road atlases published in America between circa 1890 to 1930 through illustrated examples that focus on Pennsylvania. First, it helps to define a road atlas. Here, it will be a multi-page book (or booklet) with (usually) multiple road maps, and commercially available to rule out military material. A distinction is usually made between a road atlas and a tour guide, such as the booklets from AAA with hotel listings. In the early auto days, words like "road book", "route book" and "guide" are used instead of "atlas," which only appears around 1920. The early books contain a lot of text to provide route directions as route signs did not yet exist, and calling them atlases perhaps did not seem appropriate. A road atlas can be regional: that is, two or three states, say Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware; it can be national and multinational with all the states plus Canada and Mexico, the usual modern type in the United States. There can also be a single state road atlas, and some are also included here.

The first road atlas is usually credited to John Ogilby and his 1675 Britannia.[1] This book had 100 maps of routes throughout England in the ribboned format shown at right. Ogilby died the following year, 1676, and the publication was taken over by William Morgan and continued into the 1700s. In 1759 the title became The Traveller's Pocket-Book.[2] There were subsequent editions under this new title into the 1780s. The success of Ogilby's road atlas created a demand for a compact edition that could be more easily carried. The first attempt at this was by the well known mapmaker John Senex, who in 1719 published An actual survey of all the principal roads of England and Wales.[3] A more successful publication followed in 1720 called Britannia Depicta, by John Owen with county maps engraved by the famous mapmaker Emanuel Bowen, and printed and sold by Thomas Bowles. [4] This atlas lasted into the 1760s. The first American road atlas was created by Christopher Colles, who published A Survey of the Roads of the United States.[5] Colles based his maps on the English model, as shown at left, and on surveys he did during the Revolutionary War as a mapmaker for Washington's army. In 1802 T. W. Jones and S. S. Moore produced a road guide similar to Colles called The Traveller's Directory, or A Pocket Companion, published by Mathew Carey, Philadelphia, with a second edition in 1804. [6] In 1814, John Melish published A description of the roads in the United States, and followed in 1816 with The traveller's directory through the United States, which contained maps. [7] A few other travel "companions", "guides" and "directories" appear after Melish. [8] Mapmakers like Melish in the early 19th century typically included roads on their maps until the coming of the railroad just before mid-century. Thereafter, most maps showed railroads (and canals), not highways, and the travel guides published were for travel by rail. The many county atlases published from 1861 on contained local maps that showed roads, but little that could be called a road atlas appeared until the rise of the bicycle movement after 1880.

This presentation is chronological and there are fewer atlases for the earlier years as might be expected. This is not an inclusive survey and only scratches the surface of the topic; but it does show how the road atlas developed and what some examples, which include Pennsylvania, looked like during the early years of both the bicycle and automobile. Road atlases from circa 1890 to 1900 were put out by bicycle clubs such as the League of American Wheelmen (or L.A.W.). They contain pages of printed directions because there were no route signs on the highways; the condition (mud or cobblestones) and contour (hills or dales) of roads are also included, things of real concern to a cyclist. From 1900 to 1920 road atlases appear in a variety of forms and publishers; one example is the automobile Blue Books published from the early 1900s into the late 1920s. These contain both printed directions and maps. Some atlases identify road markings that were put up by private companies, such as the Rand McNally "trail markings" and the Goodrich "guide posts." During the 1920s the modern form of a folio size paperback book appears in the Clason and Rand McNally atlases and others, whose publication continued on into later years. In the mid-twenties the route marking of roads by the federal and state governments made a plain road map usable for travel without written directions.

The coverage is divided here into four periods: circa 1890 to 1910; 1911 to 1920; 1921 to 1925, and 1926 to 1930. The atlas cover is illustrated along with the map of Pennsylvania. In most cases, interesting additional material is included. A few of the items shown here appear elsewhere on this website.

1890 to 1910

1911 to 1920

1921 to 1925

1926 to 1930

[1] Ogilby, John (1600-1676) Britannia : volume the first. Or, An illustration of the kingdom of England and dominion of Wales: by a geographical and historical description of the principal roads thereof. Actually admeasured and delineated in a century of whole-sheet copper-sculps. Accomodated with the ichnography of the several cities and capital towns; and compleated by an accurate account of the more remarkable passages of antiquity, together with a novel discourse of the present state. By John Ogilby, esq. 1675. The atlas contained 100 copper plate engravings showing roads in a continous strip form.

[2] The Traveller's Pocket-Book: or Ogilby and Morgan's Book of the Roads improved and amended, etc. by Ogilby, John, Cosmographer, and Morgan, William, Cosmographer. 1759.

[3] An actual survey of all the principal roads of England and Wales : described by one hundred maps from copper plates. On which are delineated all the cities, towns, villages, churches, houses, and places of note throughout each road. As also directions to the curious traveller what is worth observing throughout his journey. The whole described in the most easy and intelligible manner. First perform'd and publish'd by John Ogilby, Esq; and now improved, very much corrected, and made portable by John Senex. In 2 vol. 1719. The maps were similar to those in Ogilby but smaller.

[4] Britannia depicta, or, Ogilby improv'd : being a correct coppy of Mr. Ogilby's actual survey of all ye direct & principal cross roads in England and Wales : wherein are exactly delineated & engraven, all ye cities, towns, villages, churches, seats &c. scituate on or near the roads ... with suitable remarks on all places of note drawn from the best historians and antiquaries by Ino. Owen ... : lastly particular & collect maps of all ye counties of South Britain, with a summary description of each county ... by Eman. Bowen, engraver. Published/Created: London : Printed for & sold by Tho. Bowles ... & Em. Bowen ..., 1720. The maps here were presented in strips rather than a simulated ribbon, and with accompanying text.

[5] Colles, Christopher (1738-1816), A survey of the roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles. 1789. 1 atlas (86 [i.e. 84] leaves) : 83 maps ; 24 cm. Also see A Survey of the Roads of the United States 1789, by Colles, reprinted by Belknap Press 1961 and edited by W. W. Ristow, who provides some background information.

[6] The traveller's directory, or A pocket companion: showing the course of the main road from Philadelphia to New York, and from Philadelphia to Washington... From actual survey. By S. S. Moore & T. W. Jones. Philadelphia: Printed for, and published by, Mathew Carey, 1802. 3 p. 1., 52 p. 38 maps on 22 pl. 22 cm. The strip format used by Colles is followed, but the maps are more detailed.

[7] Melish, John (1771-1822) A description of the roads in the United States. Comp. from the most authentic materials, by John Melish. Philadelphia, Printed by G. Palmer, 201 Chestnut Street. 1814. iv, [5]-11 p., 82 col. 18 cm. Melish, John The traveller's directory through the United States. Consisting of a geographical description of the United States, with topographical tables of the counties, towns, population, etc. and a description of the roads, comp. from the most authentic materials. By John Melish. Philadelphia, T. & G. Palmer, printers, 1816. iv, [5]-134 p. maps. 16 cm.

[8] Examples are as follows: Merchants' and travellers directory, or, A table of the principal roads and distances throughout the United States. Philadelphia : J.M. Sanderson, 1820. The American directory, and traveller's companion, Boston, Printed by True and Greene, 1822. The traveller's directory, and emigrant's guide; containing general descriptions of different routes through the state of New-York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the territory of Michigan, with short descriptions of the climate, soil, productions, prospects, &c. Buffalo, Steele & Faxon, 1832. Traveller's directory, and statistical view of the United States. New Haven, C. S. Williams, 1834.

Copyright 2009 by Harold Cramer. All rights reserved


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