The 1931 Wadham Road Map

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by Judy Aulik

wad31fcOne of the author’s favorite oil companies to issue road maps is Wisconsin’s own Wadham Oil Company. Founded in 1888, early on it specialized in oils and greases: gasoline had a very limited market in the day.  As highways were built and auto travel became commonplace, an obvious place to advertise was on the road maps nearly every traveler carried.

From the beginning of its gasoline marketing, Wadham produced a superior product called “straight run gasoline,” i.e., the hydrocarbon fraction obtained strictly by distilling petroleum. Compared to other fractions such as kerosene and heating oils, the gasoline suited to automotive use was rare in many oil feedstocks. Petrochemical tricks such as catalytic cracking and reforming were yet to come into use. Therefore, Wadham had to charge a small premium for its gasoline, considered to be a premium product. Indeed, the original gas was designed for a colder climate, and before the mid-1920s, was lead-free.

Wadham capitalized on its reputation by featuring images of country club life and fancy autos on its map covers. Its stations were distinctive even before architect Alexander C. Eschweiler designed his famous “Pagoda” gas stations, outstanding in their exotic nature, yet blending harmoniously in Wisconsin towns and cities.

By the time this map was issued in 1931, Wadham had been purchased by Vacuum Oil Company, precursor to Socony-Vacuum (which eventually became Mobil Oil, and culminated in ExxonMobil)  However, the first three map issues under the new parent remained truer to the Wadham red, black, and yellow color scheme than to its new parent’s. Some Road Map Collectors Association members would debate whether the map shown is a Wadham map or a Milwaukee Journal Tour Club wad31legendtcmap issue. It was obtainable at the Tour Club’s Branch Stations. Fewer would opine that, as the cartographical information is that from the Wisconsin State Highway Commission, it should be considered a state official map.

Wadham’s first reported map was a 1925 issue, which was issued inside a small cardstock cover. At this point, Wadham gasoline stations were part of a Wisconsin Independent Oil Jobbers Association, and photographic evidence shows limited use of the association’s spread eagle trademark and signage. The next map considered by the RMCA to be a Wadham issue dates to 1932. The 1933 map used Langwith cartography; the 1934 cartographer is unknown; and the remainder, issued from 1935-1940, used General Drafting cartography, as did the Socony-Vacuum maps of the era. By 1935, the Mobil Pegasus had replaced the chemical industry imagery of the Wadham signage.

Does anyone else know of Wadham maps from the 1926-1930 range? If so, the author would like to know of their existence in detail.

View this map at UWM’s AGSL Digital Map Collection

 

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