Summer Road Trip, 1920s-Style

Summer Road Trip, 1920s-Style

by Michele Yamamoto

Summer is unofficially here and many vacationers have plans to travel by car sometime during the season. Many will be using a GPS guided map to navigate to their destinations. Smartphone apps will tell them where and when to turn at every step of the way.

In the past, their road trip would have been a little more challenging. About 20 years ago, they may have used a print-out of MapQuest’s list of directions. Before the internet, they could consult a printed map and figure out on their own how to get from Point A to Point B. Before there were even numbered routes, in the early days of automobile travel, a road guide might be the best way to navigate an unfamiliar area.

Introduction to the Official Automobile Blue Book. Advertisement at left offers a protective sleeve for the the book for additional money,2023.B.02.6A

In the Bay Village Historical Society archives, we have acquired a copy of one of these road guides, printed in 1921. It is the Official Automobile Blue Book, Volume Four, which covers Ohio and the states surrounding it. The book is one of the yearly editions that was published between 1901 and 1929,  sponsored by The American Automobile Association, beginning in 1906.  It was the “Standard Road Guide of America,” and in 1921 it covered the entire United States and Southern Canada in twelve volumes. As the book explains, “They tell you where to go and how to get there, giving complete maps of every motor road, running directions at every fork and turn, with mileages, all points of local or historical interest, state motor laws, hotel and garage accommodations, ferry and steamship schedules and rates. A veritable motorist’s encyclopedia.”

In order to use the guidebook to navigate, a driver needed to find his or her starting point and destination in an index at the back of the book. A key number and letter next to the name of the towns are listed and allow the person to find the route line between them on a fold-out map. After finding the page which lists the route number (at top right of each page), the driver would find a running list of directions, with turn-by-turn instructions. Two columns at left gave accumulated or total mileage and the distance between turns. An asterisk found after certain towns listed in the directions referred to a point of interest, described in detail at the bottom of the page. Many local roads appear unnamed or numbered and where to turn is described by a nearby landmark, such as a cemetery or courthouse. If no landmark existed, a description of the road or the distance since the last turn, had to be observed.

A sample of running directions from Columbus to Cleveland, Ohio. An attached can-shaped bookmark served as both advertisement and placemarker, 2023.B.02.6A

Perhaps the most enjoyable parts of the guide book areall of the beautiful and sometimes colorful advertisements for hotels, garages, tires, motoring magazines and various tourist destinations. Please enjoy those shared here and drive safely this summer!

Promotion for Colorado Springs and Manitou, CO, 2023.B.02.6A

A two page promotion for New Jersey’s North Shore, 2023.B.02.6A

Some of the information for this post was taken from the paper The Official Automobile Blue Book, 1901–1929: Precursor to the American Road Map, by John T. Bauer, a posting of which can be found online.


If you would like to find ways of supporting the Bay Village Historical Society in preserving finds such as the one above, check out the Support Us page on our website at

Come view beautiful examples of bead art during our latest exhibition Beadwork: The Beauty of Small Things at the Rose Hill Museum in Bay Village from 2:00-4:30 p.m. every Sunday through December (closed holiday weekends). Admission is free and our docent guides will be happy to direct you. Contact us by phone at (216) 319-4634 or email, with any questions.

Posted in Blog, Glimpse of the Past.