I recently discovered a 1948 Sunoco road map of the eastern United States, hidden in a basement corner at the Father & Son vintage and antiques store.
In these days of Google Maps and GPS, the Sunoco map is an interesting mix of history, marketing, geography, sociology, and design, all in a 2’x3′ package. And just $15 at the Raleigh NC vintage shop, after a $2 discount for the sketchy splotches on the back.
The map was a giveaway marketing piece that encouraged motorists to visit Florida in the post-WWII economic boom. The boilerplate cover (left) — showing a couple looking out over a landscape of hamlets and rolling hills — seems prescriptively idyllic.
The bottom half features a map of the Sunshine State, various Florida tourist attractions, and maps of Orlando and Daytona Beach. Notably, Disney World today is 20 miles outside downtown Orlando in 1948, and Daytona Beach was about three streets wide.
There’s a driving mileage chart and an obligatory ad for Sunoco oil (“Mercury Made”), back in the era of the 1,000-mile oil change. Sunoco owned a mercury mine but I can’t find anything about how the highly toxic metal made the motor oil work better. A 1,194-mile round trip from Raleigh to Tallahassee would require at least one oil change.
Did the map actually succeed in getting people to drive to Florida? To a point, I suppose. But this was before Eisenhower’s Interstate highway system (the map’s “Interstate Highways” are today’s stoplight-infested two- and four-lane Route 1, Route 50, etc.). And this was also before widespread air conditioning in Florida. Spending a few days in the car, only to be greeted by humid 90 degree heat and no A/C, doesn’t sound like my kind of a vacation.
I wondered why the map shows only the eastern United States. Since the Sun Oil Company was based in Philadelphia, my hunch is that Sunoco didn’t have any gas stations in the western U.S. in the 1940s.
I can’t verify that from Wikipedia or the company’s official history page, but Sunoco’s 2009 Annual Report mentions their 4,711 retail outlets are in 23 states, “primarily on the East Coast and in the Midwest United States.” Now that’s one version of marketing by omission–as if Ford sold a car that couldn’t drive to a Honda dealership, or Apple sold a computer that couldn’t access Microsoft.com.
Have you come across any interesting historic documents in your travels?