Whimsical Roadmaps


During our long road trips when I was a kid, I loved scanning the roadmap. I would give out regular reports on our progress, and what towns and landmarks were coming up. When I wasn’t navigating, I would daydream about the places all the other roads led to.

On one trip I got especially excited when I saw the line in the legend that gave instructions to “Aliens entering the United States”. I honestly thought they meant extraterrestrials. My parents quickly brought me down to earth.

Back then, gas stations pumped the gas for you, checked your oil, cleaned your windshield, and handed out FREE road maps. They were usually illustrated, and were specific to the province, state or city.

As the years went on, the illustrations started to get more generic. The same one would be used for every province or state. By the time the free roadmaps stated disappearing in the 70s, they were mostly adorned with photography. A far cry from the whimsical covers of yesteryear.

I suppose they became a product of the time. They were expensive to produce. Plus, congestion and the 1973 oil crisis meant that traveling by car wasn’t the romantic notion it once was.

I may not use them for driving anymore (I love GPS), but they’re a great resource for illustration ideas. Whenever I’m at a flea market, I’ll specifically look for the more whimsical ones.