As travelers prepare to hit the road for Memorial Day weekend, I thought I’d reflect on what we no longer need—a road map. Those of us who haven’t memorized the route we’ll be taking will rely on GPS to figure out how to get from home to Vacation Central and back again. The really old-fashioned among us may resort to directions from MapQuest. But virtually no one will pull out an atlas or unfold one of those crazy impossible-to-refold roap maps that still lurk in random glove compartments.
And that’s a shame, really, because the road map was a wonderful invention and absolutely essential to American travel for about 200 years. But it didn’t start out that way.
The first American road map was created by Christopher P. Colles, an engineer and visionary from Ireland who came to the colonies shortly before the American Revolution. Using studies he created while serving in the army as well as other military surveys and additional surveys undertaken on his own for his new project, Colles produced the Survey of the Roads of the United States of America in 1789.