Before we had GPS and phones with map apps, people used folded paper maps. Across the United States, transportation departments distributed free highway maps both as a public service and a way to promote tourism, including here in Utah.
The Utah State Archives is pleased to announce that a collection of Official Highway Maps from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is now online, covering from 1910 to the most recently released map from 2017.
The project started as a collaboration with UDOT when they shared digital images they had made of some maps. In the end, we opted to use our specialized large format digital camera to digitize all of the maps we have in our collection. The results are detailed, clear, and sharp enough to study up close.
History of Highway Maps
I grew up in a household that appreciated maps. There was always one in the car for me to explore from the back seat. I specifically remember looking at close-ups of the metro region where we lived to spot our hometown. Such features, along with lists of cities, state facts, measured distances, and also tourism promotion have been a part of Utah’s Official Highway Maps since the 1920s.
With its creation in 1909, the Utah State Road Commission had the duty to “Keep all records, maps, profiles and papers in the office of the State Engineer, for public inspection and reference.” (Laws of Utah 1909, p. 283)
The 1928 Road Map of Utah extends a cordial invitation “to visit Utah or to write for any additional information desired” alongside a dozen photographs of scenic locations and roads. Later detail maps of larger cities were added, plus mileage logs and points of interest along major U.S. highways like U.S. 89 or U.S. 91. By 1932, the cover specifically says “For Free Distribution” and color was added in 1933. Visitor information and promotion continues to be a part of the official highway maps today.
What Will You Discover in Maps?
As we approach a full year since a global pandemic virtually shut down tourism and travel, we can explore how Utah places changed over time and dream of our next road trip with these Utah Highway Maps.