Branner Library Map Collections contain thousands of road maps and road atlases covering the United States from the 1920s to the present. The maps are primarily a part of two large donations from the AAA of Northern California, Nevada, and Utah and the Robert C. Berlo Road and Street Map Collection. The following guide will enable you to locate these maps and also enable you to utilize other resources for learning about and finding road maps.
Road maps were regularly produced from the early days of the automobile by oil companies to encourage people to explore the country by car. These were often given away for free at gas stations. Maps were issued year after year showing the growth of the road network throughout the United States.
The Road Map Collectors Association has compiled a Master Catalog of American Oil Companies That Issued Road Maps.
Road maps were often issued without easy to read dates making it hard to tell when a map was out of date. Two resources are available to help one decipher the codes typically used by the map makers:
To learn more about the history of road maps and road travel, check out the following books:
American Road: The Story of An Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age, Pete Davies
The Highway Revolution, 1895-1925: How the United States Got Out of the Mud, I.B. Holley, Jr.
Hitting the Road: The Art of the American Road Map, Douglas A. Yorke and John Margolies
The David Smollar Map Collection
In 2019, David Smollar donated a large portion of his map collection to Stanford University Libraries. In general, the over 2,000 maps demonstrate the evolution of road maps from the early 1900s to modern day, especially for the state of California. Within this evolution, David is particularly interested in map censorship during World War II and collected many maps depicting this practice.
You can browse the David Smollar Map Collection using SearchWorks, our online library catalog.
Domestic map censorship during WWII
As part of his collecting endeavors, David wrote the following essay on domestic map censorship during WWII:
David also made notes in his personal collection catalog for maps that included these censorship practices. Visit SearchWorks to browse maps with censorship, or masking, notes.
Additional collection categories
Along with the map censorship theme, several additional overarching categories were identified in David's personal catalog:
Browse Automobile Club of Southern California (ACSC) strip maps
Browse Non-WWII California
Browse Non-WWII Los Angeles
Browse Non-WWII United States
Additional collection repositories
You can browse more of David Smollar's map collection at the San Diego Public Library.
Robert C. Berlo Map Collection
Robert (Bob) C. Berlo started collecting road maps as a child. In Maps: What I Collect and Why, he writes:
"My interest in maps began after the Second World War, when the end of gas rationing allowed my father to take us on family jaunts from our San Francisco home nearly every weekend. I began my own collection with the maps and road atlases my father and uncle used for our trip to a 1952 family reunion in Boston. As a native Californian, I took paved and multi-lane roads for granted, so was fascinated to see unpaved major roads in the Plains. This sparked my interest in the history of highways and towns. I eventually collected a road map of every one of the seventeen Western states for every year from 1925 to the present."
Image of Robert C. Berlo provided by himself.
Over time, his collection grew to over 13,000 maps covering the whole United States. In 2012, Bob donated his collection to Stanford University and is now viewable in our online catalog, SearchWorks.
Image of a selection of maps from the Robert C. Berlo collection provided by Dan Stober.
Books By Robert C. Berlo
Bob has written many books based on his extensive road map collection, all of which can be found in our online catalog, SearchWorks. Here are a few of our favorites:
In the news
The Robert C. Berlo Map Collection has been featured in several articles:
AAA road maps
The American Automobile Association of Northern California, Nevada & Utah collection contains about 7,000 road maps donated to the university from the cartographic archives of the California State Automobile Association. In addition to the road maps, the donation includes topographic and county tract maps that show the growth of California from the 1950's to the present. The entire collection has been cataloged and is available to view at Branner Library. The collection records are also viewable in our online catalog, SearchWorks.
More information about the collection itself may be found in Adam Gorlick's article published in the Stanford Report on March 17, 2009.
Automobile Club of Southern California
The Automobile Club of Southern California is an AAA affiliate and an early player in cartography for vehicle to road travel. A large collection of their strip maps from the 1920s are viewable in our online catalog, SearchWorks.
Varner Guides also provides a more comprehensive list of this series.