The Magazine

An early Tom-Tom

An early Tom-TomTravelling in the early days of motoring often was a challenging experience. Road signs were absent and society was not equipped for cars travelling over roads for hundreds of miles, where normally only stage coaches would cover distances of more than the few miles from your own village to the market in the next. If you would travel for longer distances, the train was the obvious means of displacement which could be as luxurious as you could afford.

The car however gave you something extra: no time tables, no rails, so in principle you could go anytime anywhere you wanted. But, although the excitement of taking new roads passing villages and landscapes you had never seen before was a very positive thing, it would be nice to arrive at least a good distance closer each day to your final destination without endless detours!

Therefore not long after 1900 in many countries in Europe motoring related companies like Michelin and Mors, and private organisations for cyclists and car owners like the Automobile Club de France and the Touring Club de France published travelling guides and started to place road signs. In America from 1901 on the famous Blue Books were published, in which for certain states and areas detailed routes were described with village and city names and recognizable land marks to make orientation easier. In the US you could even buy the Photo-Auto Maps, books with route descriptions, where every turning point was shown by a photo. These tools did help not only the motorist, but also stimulated many other economic activities along these routes: the traveller needed oil, gas, repairs, food, sleep etc. etc.

There was only one problem: the driver had to drive and the person next to him had to read the maps. In theory this seems a happy coincidence: now the passenger can have an active role in the trip too, and not just sit lazily looking around enjoyng the surroundings. The practice as we all know can be very different. I will not go into details.

With the Tom-Tom still almost a century away, how do you solve this? In 1913 (!) already this could be your answer: the Automatic Road Indicator, as it appeared that year in the accessories catalogue of Domenico Filogamo (with branches in Turin and Rome). On this apparatus you could read the road while travelling. The route was printed on a film, which “unrolls itself in the indicator at the speed of the car running on the road, so that a simple glance to the apparatus will enable the driver to locate the position on the road and will show which turning must be taken.” It will inform the driver of every railway crossing and dangerous turning by ringing a bell.

In one word: amazing! It is questionable however if you will be able to purchase one as a X-mas present for your antique car in time this year, but with thorough searching on autojumbles and some luck you will undoubtedly make her happy next year!

Words and photo: Ariejan Bos


Thursday, 07 December 2017