The Conoco Touraide The Mapquest of the 1930s

By Wayne Gilbert

In this day and age when the nation's oil companies are wringing every penny from America's drivers and the neighborhood filling station owner is an anonymous face it the crowd, it's hard to imagine that there was a time when the friendly "Conoco Man" was welcome in our homes.

Even in a nation that loves its cars the way Americans do, there was a time when competition and low sales volume made each gasoline buying customer valuable to the oil company industry. So valuable, they would try to win your business.

One of the winners in this quest for the American driver's patronage was the Conoco Oil Company's innovation, the Touraide. The Touraide was a set of personalized maps plotting the best or the most scenic route for the family's next motoring vacation. With the Touraide, it was no longer necessary to constantly re-fold a road map to show just the area you wanted, and there were no more frantic searches of the car's glove compartment for a new map each time you drove across state lines.

Touraides were portions of road maps, cut to fit into a spiral-bound, personalized travel directory, where the route of your trip to and from its destination was highlighted for your convenience. The book contained information about roadside attractions, motels, road conditions and, of course, the location of many convenient Conoco service stations. (Gas stations were often called "service stations" in an era when the station's attendants provided car care services.)

Touraides were often ordered and received months before the actual trip began. The whole family would gather around the dinning room table in excitement and anticipation while they thumbed the booklet from page to page, following the well-marked route on each map page, all the way to the trip's destination. Even the Touraide's cover was an exciting thing of beauty, displaying scenic wonders and a place with your name handwritten across the top.

You were acknowledged as the owner and recipient of this magical book of maps by an oil company that wanted your business. Should you need further convincing, immediately inside the cover was sure to be a picture of the smiling face of Conoco's "mileage merchant," assuring you that his company could be relied upon to provide you with not only gas and oil, but also "clean and comfortable" restrooms and "the latest information on local road conditions ahead." Following this comforting welcome was generally a fold-out map of the entire U.S., with your total trip highlighted. The following pages were maps, each showing a portion of your anticipated trip, with your route plainly marked, and vast amounts of information about the attractions and accommodations in that particular area. The Touraide was not only a booklet of excitement, it was a booklet filled with a wealth of information, maps, and mileage charts designed to make your anticipated trip a pleasant reality.

The genius of this premium was that, while most of the oil companies had been providing road maps for a long time, it was Conoco that thought to cut and assemble portions of several of these maps into a convenient and easy-to-use booklet. With the Touraide, there were no more bulky maps to re-fold, no more frantic searches of the car for a map of the next state, no more frustrating decisions concerning which was the best - or even the correct - road to take, and everything was bound into one booklet, complete with the certainty that the familiar "Conoco Man" would be there to help you every step of the way.

The Conoco Oil Company, founded in 1875 as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company, was a company that distributed coal, oil, kerosene, grease and candles to the western part of the U.S. But their business changed when the American public hit the road in their newfangled motorized vehicles. Gasoline fill-up stations sprung up along every road, and the oil corporation's management soon learned that to survive the competition, their company would have to provide service, even more than gas and oil, to their customers.

That Conoco's goal was to provide the motoring public with the best of service is illustrated by an antidote often repeated from a history of the company: Once while the corporation's owner was visiting a neighborhood service station, he spied someone sitting on a stool reading a newspaper during work hours. He kicked the stool out from under the slacker, who - much to his embarrassment - turned out to not be a Conoco worker. But the point was made-at least to the employees.

Oil corporations started providing the motoring public with road maps in the early 1900s, but it was Conoco's Travel Bureau who would become second only to AAA in promoting pleasure travel with its Touraide. Located in Denver, Colorado, its sole purpose was to court the traveling public, while providing them with the location of the nearest Conoco service station.

To receive a Touraide, a prospective traveler filled out a postcard with a destination and whether he wanted the "quickest" way or the "scenic" route. (Checking both selections brought a Touraide with both routes highlighted, each in its own color.) Since the Touraide was free of cost, it can be suspected many more scenic trips were requested than traveled, but it is also believed that few of these fascinating premiums were totally unused. While Touraides can occasionally be found for sale in antique stores and on eBay, those sold at estate and garage sales have the most meaning to many collectors. It is easy to recapture the excitement these collectable maps of the past provided their original owners, whose names were always carefully handwritten on the cover by Conoco's service representative.

There is still a magical quality to these road trips, which were personally planned for the traveler across America's highways before the advent of the sterile interstate system of roads-back when roadside attractions were often garish, when motorists spent the night in "motor courts", and when service station attendants happily provided car care and road conditions as they pumped your gas and checked your oil, trying to show that your business was important to them and to Conoco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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