Vintage Road Map Week, Part I

It’s Vintage Road Map Week at The Basement Geographer! If you, like me, are a map freak, then you’ve probably tracked down your fair share of old road maps over the Internet, where good cartographic Samaritans have uploaded hundreds of images of old road maps that one can lose hours looking at (and if you haven’t, easy places to start are the Vintage Road Maps and Old Maps pools on Flickr). It’s quite fun to look at all of the things that have changed over the decades. Here are just some of the highlights you can find browsing these old maps. You’ll definitely want to click on each map to view them full-size and absorb every detail!

Touring Map of the Custer Battlefield Hiway

Source: C. Coker, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence.

This 1925 map of the Custer Battlefield Highway, part of the system of auto trails that formed the earliest highway network in the United States, served not only as a road guide but as a lobbying tool for the National Highways Association and its efforts to convince the federal government to fund a system of national superhighways. A ‘four-fold system of highways’ refers to early proposals for multiple four-lane parallel roads: one roadway for trucks and one for fast vehicles would carry traffic in one direction; two more roadways would carry traffic in the other direction. Each roadway would initially carry three lanes of traffic, for a total of 12 lanes (six for trucks, six for fast vehicles). Pretty farsighted thinking, especially for 1925.

1934 Shell Road Map1934 Shell Road Map

Here’s a 1934 United States road map produced by Shell (many of these old maps tend to be ones produced by oil companies marketing gas stations; I’ve got a few of them, and I’m sure many of you do as well). The first thing that jumps out is the lack of Interstate highways; only the U.S. Highway system is present.Southern Florida looks rather empty (just look at how tiny Fort Lauderdale is). Las Vegas, Nevada is just a blip on U.S. 91. Looking north of the border, where Canada is still prefaced by ‘Dominion of’, there are a lot more empty spaces, with a giant break in the road grid across Northern Ontario. Also interesting is the presence of Nemiskam National Park in southeastern Alberta, which existed only briefly from 1922 to 1947 as a refuge for the plains antelope. British Columbia does not even possess numbered highways at this point.

London area road map - Michelin map, c1925

Source: M. Ashworth, Licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.

Here’s a Michelin map of London from 1925. How odd is it to see a map of London without the M25 Orbital? It’s easy to forget that the M25 is only 25 years old. Here, many of the villages that eventually were absorbed as boroughs of Greater London still retain their separate identities. London itself only extends here as far as Wimbledon, Croydon, Hendon and Barking; about one-half of the area it does now.

Nazi DDAC Map (Southwest)

Source: J. Cozart, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence.

This section of a German highway map from 1941 plays some interesting games, most notably the lack of a border between Germany and France. All German federal highways are shown in red. Coming after the Anschluss, Austria does not appear on the map at all but is treated as part of Germany. Luxembourg is also shown as an integral part of Germany, as all of the highways there are red as well.


Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin,

A World War II-era map of Tunis. Here, all of the streets in the grid-based central business district carry French names, while Arabic street names are relegated to other parts of the city. Today, Tunis is much bigger in extent than it was in 1941-42, and many of the downtown streets have been renamed for African countries, world leaders, and nationally important figures. Most notably, Avenue de France is now called Avenue de Habib Bourguiba in honour of Tunisia’s first president.

Come back later in the week for Parts II and III!

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