Before There Was GPS — Part 2

Before There Was GPS

Before There Was GPS.

(Last Updated 11 October, 2017)

Recently I published Before There Was GPS — Part 1 but I found so many neat devices, even long before the Etak in 1985.  Nearly 80 years earlier, really.

There’s really nothing new under the sun.

The First High Tech Car Navigation in 1909

(full article at: The First GPS: High-Tech Navigation in 1909)


Pity the motorists of a century ago.



Automobiles in the 1900s were slow, stiff, and undependable.



Gas stations were scarce.



The roads, where they could be found, were in wretched shape. (In 1910, there were only 10 miles of paved highway in the U.S.)



Traveling these rocky, rutted paths caused car engines to overheat and tires to blow out with a disheartening regularity.

As if this wasn’t enough discouragement, there was the challenge of navigating.



Road signs were rare and often incorrect.



Travelers were frequently reduced to driving from one roadside stranger to the next, gathering a few miles of directions at a time. The earliest road maps by Rand McNally were printed only after 1904.

Before There Was GPS

Using this high-tech alternative to maps


Yet a high-tech alternative appeared in 1909: a real-time, on-board directional guide called the Jones Live Map.



It was invented by J. W. Jones, who had also introduced the Jones Speedometer, the Jones Disc Phonograph Record, and the Jones Yobel —“the gentlemen’s automobile horn.



The idea was revolutionary. The Live Map was a small turntable device with a cable that attached to an automobile’s odometer.



Before making their journeys, drivers would purchase paper discs with the route to their destination prescribed by The Touring Club of America.

At the beginning of the journey, the driver would place his journey’s disc to the Live Map’s turntable so that the journey’s starting point lined up with an arrow indicator on the glass cover.



As the car began rolling, the turning odometer cable caused the map to rotate.



The arrow would point to the driver’s changing position in the journey.

Each disc had up to 100 miles of travel details around its perimeter.



If the journey was longer than 100 miles, the driver would replace the first disc with a second, or third part.

Editor’s Note.  In my first experience with in-car GPS navigation, in Tokyo, 1998, the in dash GPS navigator displayed location on maps read from a CD-Rom.  To travel the length of Japan required at least seven CR-Rom changes, just like listening to music on an old-time CD-Rom music player.

A Saturday Evening Post advertisement for the device described it as

the phonograph of the road.



It has disc records covering the roads of the entire world. You insert the record of the trip you want to make.



The Live-Map “plays” it. Not out loud, but with a pointer that always points the way—that tells you where you are now and what to do about it.

To have it with you is like having in your car a man who knows every road, every corner, every crossing, every landmark, every puzzling fork and crossroad in the entire world.

A 1910 booklet, “The Jones Live Map – What Happens Without It” brags that the Jones Live Map would save the driver from the Evil Genius of the Roads, the stranger who always gave incorrect directions.



It was superior to route books, which were hard to follow and led drivers into unlisted trolley and railroad crossings.



And it was more convenient than the large, clumsy, origamical maps that could never be refolded and were always tearing in the wind.


ones Manufacturing was offering over 500 routes by 1919. The routes span the entire country from New York to Los Angeles, and included notification of speed laws where they existed.

However, the problem with this first GPS was the same that plagues such systems today.



Roadways are in a state of continual change.



Every time the Live Map offered printed directions like “take a right at the fork by the flag pole,” it was fighting a losing battle. Landmarks like flag poles could be removed at any time.



The map discs might be corrected and reprinted, but a driver’s old discs, which relied on missing landmarks, could be close to useless.

By the 1920s, there was an abundance of road maps for much of the country.



States and counties had begun identifying roadways with standardized signs along the roadside.



Jones Live Map ceased production.

Distance Traveled Is Useful But There Was No Map

Even considerably earlier that the Jones Live Map was perhaps the first attempt at map-based personal navigation.

Cane Maps

At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago the Columbian Novelty Company introduced “Cane Maps”.

The cane map was a 10″ x 16″ sheet with maps printed on both sides.

It rolled in and out of a wooden cane. The front side contained a map of the fairgrounds and the back side of the map was of Chicago, showing popular tourist attractions in the area.

These maps were sold in gift shops at the fair and paved the way for future mapping and navigation techniques.

Plus Fours RouteFinder

Before There Was GPS.Of course a cane isn’t very fashionable … but a cool wristwatch is.

Worn around the wrist, the Plus Fours Routefinder was a fashionable and efficient way to keep track of your location.

These watch-like devices contained miniature scrolls with driving directions that rotated and updated as the motorist moved. The scrolls could be switched out and changed depending on what route was taken.

Inter-Auto or “Iter-Avto”

Before there was GPSIn 1932, an Italian company releases the Inter-Auto, the world’s first personal navigation system for an automobile.

This device also contained a scrolling map and additionally, connected to the car’s speedometer to maintain an accurate scrolling rate.

Similar to a modern day Garmin or Tom Tom, this device showed a motorist’s position in real-time.

Navigation systems today have come a long way since Cane Maps and Inter-Autos.

So what else do you want to know about the days Before There Was GPS?