For many of today’s drivers, tools like Google Maps and GPS devices have made turn-by-turn directions a familiar—even essential—part of getting from point A to point B. But this isn’t a new idea and didn’t start in Silicon Valley. In the early days of the automobile, “route guides” included turn-by-turn directions compiled by amateur and professional “pathfinders.” In 1901, Charles Howard Gillette, a Hartford native, published the Official Automobile Blue Book. Not to be confused with the Kelley Blue Book Used Car Guide (founded by Les Kelley in Los Angeles in 1926), Gillette’s Blue Book provided motorists with touring directions as well as locations of service stations and hotels, information about state road laws, advice on preparing for a trip, and, of course, advertisements.
Below is part of a route guide from the 1922 Blue Book. Anyone who enjoys hiking in Connecticut might be reminded of the Connecticut Walk Book (published by Connecticut Forest & Park Association), with its detailed trail descriptions and distances in fractions of a mile.
Hartford to Waterbury, Conn. 35.2 m.
· Via Farmington, Plainville, Bristol and Thomaston. All macadam, except a few stretches of concrete and gravel.
· Marked by red banded poles to Farmington, blue bands to Plainville, red bands to Thomaston, blue bands to Waterbury.
0.0 Hartford, Main & Asylum Sts. West on Asylum St.
0.6 Fork; left on Farmington Av. Thru West Hartford 3.6
9.2 Farmington, left-hand road at store. Left.
11.4 Fork; right
13.3 4-cor[ners].; right.
13.8 Plainville, at monument. Thru right across RR.
15.4 Forestville, end of street. Jog right; left onto Broad St.
16.7 Right-hand road beyond RR underpass; right.
17.9 Bristol, end of avenue at cross-trolley. Left onto Main St., across bridge and next right onto School St.
Before founding the Automobile Blue Book, Gillette worked for the Pope Manufacturing Company and owned a sporting goods store in Hartford, and later started the Columbia Lubricants Company in New York City. He was also a founder of the Automobile Club of Hartford and served as secretary of the American Automobile Association (both groups were founded in 1902). At its peak in 1921, the Blue Book included 12 volumes covering the continental United States and parts of Canada. Competition from new road atlases and AAA’s TourBooks© led to the Blue Book’s decline; its last publication was in 1929. Editions of the Automobile Blue Book, as well as other early Connecticut tour guides, road maps, AAA publications and automobile safety posters, are currently on view in “Behind the Wheel,” a new exhibit at the Connecticut Historical Society. “Behind the Wheel” is open through September 28, 2013.