Steam-powered vehicles used for short freight hauls first appeared in the eighteenth century, and gasoline powered trucks first appeared on American roads around 1900. Long-distance shipping by truck, however, did not develop in the United States until after the World War I. When the United States entered the war 1917 railroads were strained beyond their capacity. Trucks were called upon to fill the gap, but their ability to do so was limited by the poor quality of American roads. The wartime experience was a major impetus for the construction of the first federal and state highways during the 1920s and 1930s. Improvements in automotive chassis design, tires, and engine technology also enhanced the range, speed, and agility of motor trucks, and made possible the foundation of the first long-distance truck lines. Though trucks could not carry the volume of freight carried by rail—which remains the preferred mode of overland transport for the heaviest and bulkiest commodities—they had the advantage that they could move lighter and finished goods in a single vehicle directly from their source to their destination limited only by the passability of the right of way. Their usefulness to freight hauling in urban environments quickly surpassed that of the horse transport, but as this map suggests, by the late 1930s, trucking companies had begun to seriously challenge the primacy of railroads in intercity freight transport.
Consolidated Freight (which survives today in reorganized form as the logistics company Con-Way) was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1929 and was one of the country’s largest trucking companies when this map published in 1937. The company turned to the mapping giant Rand McNally to produce this custom map as an advertisement to potential shippers, just as it had done for railroad companies since the 1870s. Though the map makes no mention of federal or state highways, the truck line of course government construction and maintenance of these routes (supported in part by the taxes the company paid), whereas the railroads owned their own lines. The text and images accompanying the map emphasize the convenience and courtesy of the service, personified by the individual truck operator. Overnight delivery was promised within 350 miles of the freight’s point of origin, “twice as fast as ordinary freighting methods.”
Consolidated Freight Lines Inc. Offers Incomparable Service to Large & Small Shippers. Map of Operations Showing Participating Carriers [in western U.S.]. Chicago: Rand McNally for Consolidated Freight Lines, 1937?. The Newberry Library, RMcN AE 177.8