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Transportation - Maps

Among the oldest use for maps was to aid travelers. In the state's history the most important transportation maps were first those used for navigation, second, maps that charted the spread of the railroads, and finally maps that recorded the construction of roads for automobiles.



One purpose of French map making was the creation of navigational charts. Although the general outline of the lakes was known to sailors by the late seventeenth century, developing accurate and detailed navigational charts that could adequately supplement the knowledge of a skilled sailor took more than a hundred years. As late as the War of 1812 both British and American captains experienced difficulty because they lacked accurate charts.

Bayfield Chart, northern Lake Superior, 1818 At war's end the British admiralty took steps to develop the first systematic navigational charts for the Canadian lakes. In 1816 Henry Wolsey Bayfield, then a young lieutenant in his majesty's navy, was made part of a survey party ordered to chart a portion of the lakes. Bayfield continued to participate in and later be responsible for the creation of navigational charts until he retired from the navy in 1856. His work led to creation of navigational charts for virtually all of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and much of Canada's Atlantic shoreline. For many sites along the lakes Bayfield's charts would remain the primary point of reference until the first years of the twentieth century.




As settlers began to move inland, away from the waters of the Great Lakes, maps showing the routes between settlements were needed. Although some maps displaying overland transportation routes were created, for example John Farmer's first map was of the government road that ran from the mouth of the Maumee River in Ohio to Detroit, most nineteenth century roads were little more than cleared paths that shifted to suit the changing whims of nature or the preferences of a particular teamster. The impermanence of such roads made it difficult if not impossible to accurately map them. Tanner map, 1839

Unlike the meandering roads built for horse and wagon, railroad track had a permanence that well suited the map makers art and a market composed of travelers. In 1836 Michigan's first railroad was opened between Toledo and Adrian. In that same year the Michigan Central Railroad began construction westward from Detroit. As documented in a map published for the line's stockholder's, the line anticipated moving westward across the state's southern counties. The Michigan Central reached New Buffalo, making it the first east-west railroad to cross the lower peninsula, in 1849.

Construction of the first north-south railroad line in the lower peninsula took considerably longer and created much controversy. Since any north-south line would necessarily end in a port city, discussion occurred regarding where this "northern terminus" should be located. The straits of Mackinac were an obvious choice, and was selected by the Michigan Central. Competing lines, however, preferred Ludington, based on an argument that a ferry line between that city and Manitowoc, Wisconsin would be less impeded by ice than ferries operating from Mackinac. Ultimately railroad ferrying operations were established in 1874 at Ludington and in 1881 at Mackinac.

Iron rails first came to the upper peninsula in the 1850's. In 1857 the Iron Mountain Railroad began operating between Marquette and Negaunee. During the 1870's and 1880's two competing groups built east-west railroads across the peninsula. The Detroit, Mackinac, & Marquette, opened a line between St. Ignace and Marquette in 1881 that many hoped would eventually span the upper peninsula. However because of financial difficulties additional construction was very slow. The line was absorbed in 1886 by the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic and in this new incarnation by 1889 it became possible to ride fro the Soo to either Houghton or Duluth. Eventually this "northern route" across the peninsula was absorbed by the Canadian Pacific. At the same time as the northern route was being constructed a second group of investors sought to build a line from Sault Ste. Marie to the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, or the "Soo" line, began construction in 1884. It closely followed the shore of Lake Michigan, reaching Sault Ste. Marie in 1887.Michigan Central Railroad map, 1855

As railroads built new lines across Michigan, map makers quickly placed the lines on their existing maps. In 1837 Farmer included the new railroads on his state map. By 1839 map makers such as Tanner, whose map is displayed here, were noting both existing and proposed rail lines. Doggett's Railroad Guide & Gazetteer, published in 1848, appears to have printed the first map crated exclusively to illustrate Michigan railroads. In 1857 the first map to include upper peninsula rail lines was created by J.L. Hazard. Hazard's "map of Lake Superior with its Rail Road & Steamboat Connection" was published by Charles Desilver. By th early 1860's a new state railroad map was issued almost annually by one map maker or another.

In competition with commercial map makers, the railrad companies published maps showing the route taken by their own lines, while usually excluding the routes of their competitors. These route maps tended to grow out of maps originally issued as promotional devices to sell railroad stock. For example, the first map of the Michigan Central, which is shown here, was issued in 1855 as part of the annual report to stockholders and was clearly meant to impress upon the lines investors the wisdom of owning MCRR stock rather than attract new passengers to the line.

Like maps designed to lure investors, early railroad route maps often displayed proposed routes rather than track actually laid. Although in many cases these early railroad maps give an accurate portrayal of what was to come, company publications, as well as information given by railroad companies to commercial map makers such as Farmer, were as much promotional brochures as true maps. For example, two maps appeared in 1857 noting proposed rail routes to Mackinaw City, twenty-four years before the paying customer could actually ride over the track. Similarly the Flint & Pere Marquette's first map, issued in 1864, showed a route to Ludington that took ten years to actually construct.

By the late nineteenth century information about railroad routes was readily available to the public. Both from commercial maps and through company-issued route maps the public could learn how to make their "connection."


 Automobile & Tourist Maps

cover, Standard Oil Company map

If transportation maps of the nineteenth century Michigan were synonymous with railroad routes, in the twentieth century maps documenting transportation routes increasingly meant highway maps. The appearance of the automobile in twentieth century Michigan revolutionized the status of roadways. In 1900 approximately eight thousand automobiles existed in the United States, or about one car for every 9,500 individuals. By 1910 there was one car for every 210 indiviudals, nad by 1920 the ratio had declined to a car for every thirteen Americans. By 1930 a car existed for every five Americans; almost thirty million vehicles were being driven in the United States. This astonishing increase in the number of cars created tremendous public demand for good roads on which to drive.

The Federal Highways act of 1921 established and funded America's first interconnected network of highways. The law authorized each state to designate up to seven percent of its roads as "primary." The federal government pledged to match, dollar for dollar, expenditures made to improve these primary roads. The intent of the 1921 law was to finance a network of approximately 200,000 miles of paved roads that would serve every city in America with more than 50,000 residents.


The automotive public not only demanded new roads but very quickly also began to ask for new maps that delineated paved highways. Among the most distinctive type of map to emerge to meet this demand was the gas station promotional map. For generations, motorists assumed that a road map was their's for the asking with every fill-up. Gas station maps included not only highway information but also advertisements, the most common of which was to place on the map the location of the company's service stations. A typical example appears above, with paved roads denoted by solid red lines, "improved" gravel roads noted with dotted red lines, other roads noted in blue and the Blue "S" showing communities with Standard gas stations.

Grand Rapids and Indiana advertisement, 1884 The idea of using maps to directly advertise commercial activities spread quickly. As highways were constructed it seemed that every tourist attraction in Michigan had issued a map denoting how all roads led invariably to it. Although tourist maps proliferated with the coming of the automobile, the concepts of linking maps and tourism was pioneered by the railroads. Among the first lines in the state to create this linkage was the Grand Rapids & Indiana, which in the 1880's dubbed itself the "Fishing Line." In a series of ever more elaborate publications, as typified by the 1884 publication reproduced here, the GR & I extolled the many tourist attractions along its Lake Michigan track, with an emphasis on sporting activities. Other railroads copied the GR & I and laid the groundwork for the far more common automotive tourist maps of the twentieth century.

Since their invention in the nineteenth century, transportation maps have become a commonplace tool used in getting from here to there. Over the years, however, these maps have evolved and often become linked with various commercial enterprises, spawning a distinct genre of tourist literature.