Monday, June 19, 2006

Getting There

On the evolution of automobile navigation...

"It is a testament both to the early allure of the automobile and to the difficulty of travelling very far in one that, in 1907, Andrew McNally II, the grandson of the co-founder of Rand McNally & Company, chose to spend his honeymoon in Milwaukee. He and his bride drove there, from their home town of Chicago. The way was mostly unpaved and unmarked. In those days, there were no route numbers or state roads; in Wisconsin, there were merely old cart and carriage thoroughfares, whose primary purpose was the conveyance of food from farm to market. It wasn’t yet clear how drivers would find their way around. Navigation depended, mainly, on asking people along the way where to go next—an untenable state of affairs, it would seem, as long as the drivers were men, which most of them were.

Rand McNally started out printing railway tickets and flyers, and then, in the eighteen-seventies, branched out into the business of publishing wax-engraved maps for gold prospectors and other hardy tourists. These were maps more of terrain than of roads through it. Still, Andrew McNally II had a sense that the automobile might enhance the way-finding side of the business, and so, on this honeymoon trip, he strapped a camera onto the front fender of his car and, at every junction—every right or left turn—stopped and snapped a photograph. He and his bride did the same on the return trip. Back in Chicago, McNally compiled the photographs into a booklet, with a little arrow in each photograph indicating the proper direction to take. The booklet was called a Photo-Auto Guide and was essentially a driver’s-eye view of the way to Milwaukee, at least as it looked that spring. (Obsolescence loomed; a new barn or a fallen oak could alter the appearance of the road.)"   continued ...   (Via New Yorker)


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