Working on a writing project based on a highway obviously needs to involve a map, or more than one. I certainly have a growing file but I hadn’t given any thought as to how they began–a drawing of a line and some kind of symbol — that was about it.
Then a friend told me about a NPR broadcast that featured author Ken Jenning and his book called MAPHEAD.
According to him, in the early days of motoring, the only maps for routes between cities were flip books of text and pictures. One page would say “turn left at the red barn” and there would be a picture of a barn. The next page would say something like “go 3 miles and turn right at the grove of poplars” and there would be a picture of the grove.
The Mc Nally people wanted to sell highway maps but text and pictures weren’t going to work. They sent out crews to paint signs with road numbers and colors and then made maps based on the signs.
The states caught on and began numbering important connecting roads. Later the federal roads were also numbered– but on a shield based on the one used by the railroad.
As I study the maps showing up in my file, how complicated they have become over time, it’s fairly easy to see why we
now need computers in our car to interpret all the symbols and give directions to get us from one place to another.


One Response to “LINES AND SYMBOLS”

  1. Eunice Boeve Says:

    That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. I kind of like the turn right at the red barn… or grove of poplars. it’s pleasing to the senses, but of course not feasable now. I’m direction challanged. I have to pay close attention not to get lost. My husband seems to have a build in compass, except when he’s in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. He came into the mountainous town (he’s from the flat lands) in the back of a covered airforce truck and got turned around and still is in the 50 odd years since, no matter how often we visit and we visit quite a lot.

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