As I mentioned in a previous article, finding your way along America’s highways was not always as easy as it is today. One auto pioneer who made our journeys easier was Anton L. Westgard.
Today, his contributions are recognized as little more than a footnote in early automotive history, but he deserves more. We discovered him while working on our book Hoosier Tour: A 1913 Indiana to Pacific Tour. He became a celebrity for his trailblazing efforts by the time his book Tales of a Pathfinder was published in 1920.
Previous to 1913, A.L. Westgard established a touring record for automobilists by crossing the continent three times in 147 days in a stock automobile while collecting data for a series of strip maps published by the American Automobile Association.
On June 2, 1913, Westgard, as the new vice president of the National Highways Association, left New York City on a tour of 17,000 miles of American roads. The majority of his travels were over terrain that could hardly be called roads. The routes across the Rockies, Sierras, and deserts were over country in which trails were recently designated. The purpose of the trip was to compile first-hand data by a competent civil engineer, geologist, and road expert for a report of the NHA. The association hoped to use the data to convince the federal government to build roads.
Westgard was the recognized expert in preparation of road data. Since 1910, while he was engaged in his work with the American Automobile Association, he opened up and logged the Santa Fe Trail. He also laid out routes for the Glidden and other tours, as well as a series of three transcontinental trails. These were known as the “Trail to the Sunset,” “Midland Trail,” and the “Overland Trail.” The Overland Trail was the northern-most trail to the northwest.
In 1913, after leaving the IAMA Indiana-Pacific Tour in San Francisco in late July, Mr. Westgard and his Premier automobile were shipped to Seattle in preparation for additional trailblazing. He then retraced some of his earlier routes from Seattle through Portland to San Francisco and Los Angeles. In late October, he left on his return trip to New York via San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville.
Westgard’s goal with the NHA was to mark out and plot each of the principal roads in the 48 States with the exception of Michigan by the end of 1914. NHA asserted that 50,000 miles of national highways – a little more than one-fifth of the total mileage of public roads in the country – would directly serve two-thirds of the entire population. The association’s aim was improvement of these roads.
For 1914, he planned to cover 18,000 miles of highways in the Middle Western and Southern states. That year’s journey started from New Orleans, LA, and went as far north as Pembina, ND, on the Canadian border, east to Tallahassee, FL, and west to Cody, WY. He covered the roughly 18,000-mile distance in a little more than seven months.
In the summer of 1915, Westgard published his map showing the main motor travel routes with special emphasis given to transcontinental and other long-distance highways. A separate map published by NHA showed the 50,000 miles of national highways advocated by the association.
There is a good chance that some of those early two-lane byways that you are familiar with today were covered by A.L. Westgard over 100 years ago. We salute this “Daniel Boone of the Gasoline Age.”
For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.