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Wisconsin Official State Highway Map Digital Collection

By Jaime Martindale, Map and Geospatial Data Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Coming soon from the University of Wisconsin-Madison:  Official State Highway Map Digital Collection

A digital archive of the “Official State Highway Map” of Wisconsin has recently been completed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).  Dating back to 1916, the state highway map collection contains 82 unique editions (some single year, others spanning two years.) The print editions were digitized by the American Geographical Society Library (AGSL) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Wisconsin State Historical Society (WHS) and the WisDOT Cartography Division to create a comprehensive collection of digital maps in both PDF and TIFF formats.  The digital map files will be archived by the Robinson Map Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Official State of Wisconsin Highway Map, 1916 (PDF by WHS)


Wisconsin’s earliest official highway map is dated 1916 (issued in 1918), with the state being one of only a handful in the U.S to have completed a state highway map prior to 1920 (Bockenhauer 1994). The official highway map has long been a tool for promoting tourism in the state, where various editions include images and information aimed at welcoming travelers to visit the “Playground of the Middle West”. Different state agencies in Wisconsin have vied for space on the map through the years to promote and educate readers – from business and economic advertising, to natural resources exploration and tourism.


Reverse side of the 1936 Official State Highway Map of Wisconsin, enticing travelers to explore the
state’s natural beauty.


Beginning in the 1930s, the printed highway map was also a way for Wisconsin’s Governors to send promotional messages to visitors. There is definitely no shortage of cheese references in these welcome notes, as Wisconsin’s agricultural and dairy production were often touted as reasons people might visit or relocate to the state.


Governor Oscar Rennebohm welcomes visitors to Wisconsin on the 1947 map, where they will find the “…nation’s greatest cheese production”


The WisDOT Official State Highway Map archive is currently being processed by the Robinson Map Library, and will be available for discovery and download via the BTAA Geoportal in the coming months. One wonderful thing about this collection is that each map scan contains a front and rear image (available as a single download) – where most of the interesting cultural and tourism material appears on the back of the map. We look forward to making these maps widely available, and preserving the digital records for the long term.


Special thanks to Christine Koeller from the WisDOT Cartography Division for making this collection possible and sharing the digital images with the Robinson Map Library at UW-Madison.



Bockenhauer, Mark H. “Culture of the Wisconsin Official State Highway Map.” Cartographic Perspectives, 18 (Spring 1994):17-27