Many younger drivers today barely know what a road map is, so accustomed are they to GPS navigation systems. A time when roads and highways were devoid of even the most basic markings is probably well beyond their imaginings. In those earliest days, intercity travel was the exclusive domain of the railroads. An automobilist had to be a brave and hardy soul to venture very far from town on the poorly marked and undeveloped roads of the day. An article we found in the February, 1907 issue of Good Roads Magazine called not only for improved highways, but made the case that adequate signage was second only to those very necessary upgrades.
In 1905, Homer Sargent Michaels, an automobile agent based in Chicago, developed a clever solution to the problem. He took photographs of every major intersection along a given route and published the results in some very useful books. In New England, the Automobile Green Book issued by the Automobile Legal Association provided road maps and directions to keep the motorist on his desired route. But these efforts were not practical as the number of motorists and cars exploded in the ‘teens and twenties.
It was the pioneering of the Lincoln Highway in 1913, that accelerated the movement for permanent and uniform signage. Although enthusiastic efforts got most of the route marked within the first few months, thirty to fifty percent of those markers fell victim to thieves and vandals within the first year and had to be replaced. The solution was a system of thirty four hundred concrete markers that would not be so easily disturbed.
By the late twenties, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials had worked out a standardized roadway numbering system that continues to serve to this day. Lincoln Highway sign photos from the Peter Helck Collection courtesy of Racemaker Press. Right thumbnail above courtesy of Iowa Public Television. Missouri highway signs photos from 1926 courtesy of the Joe Sonderman Collection.