Photo Auto Guides: The Prequel to Mapquest & Google Earth

On our road trip from Chicago to Seattle, I was quite fond of pointing out (usually during periods of inclement weather and / or unusual traffic patterns, such as why are you trying to force us off the road, truck?!) how lucky we are that Google Maps and assorted digital cartography resources even exist.

“What did people even do in the olden days?! I mean, if you got lost in 1983, what would happen?! How did all of those hippies even get to San Fransisco in the 1960s? How did they pay for gas? What was the plan?” I would wonder aloud as weather and trucks hampered our progress toward our just-booked-on-priceline hotel.

Or, as Dumb and Dumber puts it:

Lloyd: I’m only human, Harry! Come on! Stop being a baby. So we backtracked a tad!

Harry: A tad? A tad, Lloyd? You drove almost a sixth of the way across the country in the wrong direction! Now we don’t have enough money to get to Aspen, we don’t have enough money to get home, we don’t have enough money to eat, we don’t have enough money to sleep!

Of course, this over reliance on digital technology overlooks the historical importance of phone books and atlases, amiright?

This realization came to me all of a sudden like when I found a mention of the Chicago-to-Milwaukee Photo-Auto Guide from 1907 published by the Rand McNally Company in an article I was reading.

I immediately stopped reading things related to my dissertation and hit up the ole Library of Congress digital archives. What a treasure trove of magical pre-Internet street views!

Here’s the link to every page of the Guide, and here are some of the gems I found (alongside their contemporary iterations):

1907 google earth prequel


How handy to have all of the information in one place about traffic, weather, road conditions… wait a minute, this doesn’t update! Still, an elegant pre-Internet solution.


I’m not calling this an INelegant solution, because I know that it works. (I tried it out – with a car.) Just less of a page-turner. Nyuk nyuk.

no 1


no 1 today

… and now (Google streetview).


Edgewater Country Club? You don’t say… surely that led to some sort of yep there’s the controversy.

Obviously, I could do this all day, because it’s loads of fun. Perhaps less obviously to me, I can’t do this all day – back to work!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into Chicago and map history. Feel free to browse the rest of the book. It’s amazing! I am amazed.

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4 Responses to Photo Auto Guides: The Prequel to Mapquest & Google Earth

  1. A Yuen says:

    What a quirky find! Did they do other guides for other routes? Also I am curious about the part of the intro that says ‘Also one of the principal reasons for selecting the entire route as photographed was that the people and horses are more familiar with automobiles, reducing that source of danger and delay…’ I wonder what sorts of incidents happened between people and horses and autos in the past…!

    • AMANDA! says:

      There are lots of other guides! Someone I met at the Newberry Library, Jim Ackerman, researches the auto guides.

      And isn’t that note about horses great?! A good reminder that things weren’t always the way they are…

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