Drawings for a 1912 patent for an automobile navigation system, a precursor to modern GPS navigation. A handheld device, connected to the front wheel axle, would rotate discs that displayed directions for a predetermined route.
These Are the Cleverest, Weirdest Mapping Ideas Ever Patented
Inventors have dreamt up some strange ways to map and navigate the world—and have patented nearly 100 different ways to fold a map.
In 1912 an inventor in New York City named Joseph W. Jones filed a patent for a “Combined Road-Map and Odometer” that is arguably the forerunner to today’s dashboard GPS navigation systems.
This is just one of the more than 300 map-related inventions uncovered by Mark Monmonier, a geographer at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. Monmonier’s new book Patents and Cartographic Inventions is a fascinating look at more than a century and a half of clever—and not-so-clever—ideas, and the inventors behind them. The patents cover everything from internally illuminated globes to streetcar transfer tickets to complicated map-folding schemes.
Patents have generally been ignored by map historians, Monmonier says, but they reveal a lot about how people have used maps over