Showing the Way

  • Mark Monmonier
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology book series (PSHST)


Mechanical in-vehicle navigation systems anticipated the GPS by eight decades. By expanding the motorist’s geographic range, the automobile spurred demand for the strip map, a niche opened up by bicycle touring in the late nineteenth century. One inventor attached a strip map to a pair of rollers in a rigid frame mounted on the handlebar and showing only the most immediately relevant part of the route. Another attached a scrolling device to a car’s steering column, and others made scrolling automatic with a flexible cable attached to a wheel. Enhancements included warning bells and verbal directions from a phonograph mounted under the dashboard. Most of these patents were never developed commercially, and the market dried up around 1920 because of improved signposting and better roads.


Patent System Flexible Shaft Patent Examiner Road Indicator Working Prototype 
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Copyright information

© Mark Monmonier 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Monmonier
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geography, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public AffairsSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

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