Milwaukee’s First Brownie–William Wallace Rowland Part 1 of 3

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By Judy Aulik

wwrowland The Milwaukee Journal has a unique role in the history of Wisconsin’s State Trunk Highway system, thanks to one man: “Brownie” Rowland. Born in 1878, he worked his way up from office boy “Wallie” to becoming the Journal’s vice-president. But in the meantime, he was known to millions as “Brownie,” accompanied by his sidekick on the Wisconsin roadways, “The Poor Cuss.”

Early on, Rowland realized that two things were needed to improve the lives of auto tourists: good maps and good trailblazing. Nationally, beginning in 1912, the few good roads were known as “Blazed Trails,” and the best known of these was the Lincoln Highway. Predating the more well-known route, however, was the Yellowstone Trail, the only transcontinental blazed (named) trail to pass through Wisconsin.

In true Wisconsin spirit, he set out–at first with his mother as navigator–to 16806991_1343151472405824_4377947373314305350_nmark the better highways of the state as Journal Roads. These mapped routes were printed in the Sunday Journal. Parallel to this effort was that by the Wisconsin Advancement Association, which blazed convenient roadside objects with geometric blazes in red, white, or yellow; considerably more primitive than the Journal markings.

By early 1916, an ad in the Journal urged people to keep a scrapbook of maps clipped from the columns found in the sport section. Maps could come from other sources, such as B.F. Goodrich Company promotions. But something was brewing which lasted to the end of Prohibition: The Call of the Open Road.

1916fcThe 1916 edition wasn’t revolutionary. The maps were the insets previously seen, plus a state map of Tentative Main Travelled Roads of Wisconsin, from late 1915. Some of the WAA trails were shown. However, the narrative style of previous guidebooks and the concept of navigating by landmarks were to be replaced with maps.


Final two image credits: Rowland, William W. The Call of the Open Road: Helpful Maps of Wisconsin Tours (Milwaukee, Wis.: Milwaukee Journal, 1916). Online facsimile at

-End part one-

Part 2

Part 3
Special thanks to the AGSL guest blogger, Judy Aulik. With an extensive road map collection of her own, Judy Aulik  has served as past President of the Road Map Collectors Association, an organization founded in 1996.  Now boasting a membership of several hundred in the US, Canada, and Europe, the club publishes a quarterly newsletter, has a website, Facebook page, and hosts an annual “Road Map Expo.”  Judy is a retired Adult Services Librarian with a PhD from UW-Madison. She recently spoke to the Wisconsin Map Society about the history of the Milwaukee Journal Tour Club, and its influence on highway signage and mapping. 


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