Pitching a “Four-Fold System of Highways”

John C. Mulford, Chief Cartographer / C. C. Faunce, Cartographer / A. Hoen & Co., Baltimore, GOOD ROADS EVERYWHERE[:] TOURING EASTERN UNITED STATES SHOWING 100,000 MILES OF MAIN TRAVELED HIGHWAYS…. Washington, D.C.: National Highways Association, Automobile Club of America and Keystone Automobile Club, 1926.
Folding map printed in colors, 37 ¼”h x 26”w at neat line plus margins. Minor soiling, else excellent.

An exuberant and entertaining 1926 persuasive map of the Eastern United States by the National Highways Association (NHA), touting construction “of a system of 250,000 miles of United States highways … to be built and forever maintained by the United States Government.”

The map depicts the eastern section of a vast proposed national highway network, with road types differentiated by colors and line widths. The map was issued in concert with the American Automobile Association (AAA), and many highways are outlined in yellow to indicate routes for “associated tours” promoted by that organization. Surrounding the map are numerous insets including NHA imagery and several text panels promoting different aspects of its program. My favorite is a panel at lower left promoting the development of “airports and highway air landings”, with a small vignette of a biplane coming in to land on a highway… though it appears to be heading directly into oncoming motor vehicle traffic.

According to the American Geographical Society,

“The National Highways Association (NHA) was established in 1911 to promote the development of an improved national road network in the United States. Under the slogan “Good roads for everyone!” the NHA proposed a 150,000-mile (241,402-kilometer) [later, 250,ooo-mile] network of roads, based on a four-fold system of national, state, county, and town or township highways and roads….

“Besides issuing brochures and circulars aimed at convincing citizens of the need for a national road system, the NHA was a prolific producer of maps. Cartographic work was done at an office in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, where approximately 40 people were employed on the property of Charles Henry Davis (1865–1951), president and cofounder of the NHA. Davis believed that these maps would be helpful to a national highways commission that he hoped would be established and that they would assist the states in integrating their roads into a national system. Congress never embraced the plan put forward by the NHA, but the organization and its maps helped to promote the cause of a national road network.”

As heir to the American Road Machine Company, a manufacturer of road construction equipment, NHA President and co-founder Charles Henry Davis (1865-1951) was hardly a disinterested party. Whatever his motives—though in fairness he ultimately sold his interest in his company—his vision was eventually realized, albeit heavily modified and after much delay, with the passage in 1956 of the Federal Aid Highway Act. Today the Interstate Highway System extends nearly 50,000 miles and accommodates some 25% of the nation’s road traffic.

OCLC 39690870, giving 7 institutional holdings as of June 2022. For more background on the NHA, see Richard F. Weingroff, “Good Roads Everywhere: Charles Henry Davis and the National Highways Association,” on the web site of the Federal Highway Administration. For a more one-sided take, see “National Highways Association[:] Its Foundation, Growth and Objects,” The Automobile Journal for Jan. 25, 1917, pp. 24-26.