Summer Road Trip, 1920s-Style

Introduction to the "Official Automobile Blue Book." Advertisement at left offers a protective sleeve for the the book for additional money. Photo courtesy Bay Village Historical Society

Summer is 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.

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 12 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.

Perhaps the most enjoyable parts of the guide book are all of the beautiful and sometimes colorful advertisements for hotels, garages, tires, motoring magazines and various tourist destinations.

To see more photos, check out the Bay Village Historical Society’s Glimpse of the Past blog at 

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Volume 15, Issue 13, Posted 8:37 AM, 07.18.2023