The National Highways Association pitches its “Four-Fold System of Highways”

John C. Mulford, Chief Cartographer / C. C. Faunce, Cartographer / Lithographed and printed by A. Hoen & Co., Baltimore, UNITED STATES TOURING MAP SHOWING 250,000 MILES OF PRINCIPAL TRAVELED HIGHWAYSGOOD ROADS EVERYWHERE …. Washington, D.C.: National Highways Association, Automobile Club of America and Keystone Automobile Club, 1929.
Folding map printed in colors, 34”h x 50”w plus margins and text panel at left. Better than very good for such a large, fragile map, with minor wear along folds and edges.

A densely-exuberant persuasive map published in 1929 by the National Highways Association (NHA), “a membership corporation which exists to favor, foster and further the development of NATIONAL HIGHWAYS and GOOD ROADS EVERYWHERE in the length and breadth of these United States of America”.

The NHA advocated above all for an activist role for the Federal Government in developing the national network of paved roads. This consisted, in the NHA’s view, of a “four-fold system of highways” including “national highways” built and maintained by the Federal Government; “U. S. highways” “built jointly by the Federal and state governments; “state highways” built and maintained by the states with Federal support; and “local roads” “built and maintained by the counties, townships and towns, with or without state aid”. The roads will “pay for themselves in the savings and gains they will bring to the Nation”, not least by increasing land values, providing (unspecified) gains “in our social and recreational life”, and “bind[ing] the states together in a common brotherhood and thus perpetuat[ing] and preserv[ing] the Union.”

The map depicts the existing national highway network, with road types differentiated by colors and line widths, while Indian reservations, national forests, national irrigation projects and national parks are indicated by color coding. Highlighted in blue is the route of the Oregon Trail, largely following the existing road system, along which the Oregon Trail Memorial Association proposes to place “enduring monuments which will tell in truthfulness the cost of the rail making by those daring spirits of earlier times”. Also highlighted is a huge red loop in the West, indicating the “National Park-to-Park Highway” running for 4600 miles and taking in no fewer than 11 national parks. Surrounding the map are numerous insets including National Highways Association imagery, several text panels promoting different aspects of its program, and a large text panel at left presenting the mission of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association.

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) 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 8464804 et al, giving numerous institutional holdings. 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.