In 1905, a Former U.S. Army Officer Added Moving Maps to Cars
Henry Metcalfe’s Road Map Exhibitor was GPS before GPS
Before satellite navigation, people found their way using paper maps. Which, of course, can be cumbersome — and ill-suited to the confines of any vehicle, let alone an early open-top automobile.
In 1905, Henry Metcalfe, a 58-year-old retired U.S. Army ordnance officer and firearms inventor, filed a patent for what he called the “Road Map Exhibitor.” An early in-car navigation aid.
Metcalfe’s patent describes his invention:
The exhibitor consists of a tube, Fig. 2, made of thin transparent celluloid, inside of which a road map or maps may be coiled the maps being visible through the substance of the tube … and means for supporting the device on the dash or front board … of the automobile, as in Figs. 1, 3, 5 and 7. It may of course be used on other vehicles, but it is designed more particularly for automobiles, since touring is largely confined to that class of vehicles.
The Exhibitor attached to the dashboard of a vehicle and protected a map from the elements. The driver could uncoil the map from the tube as the journey progressed along the route. Metcalfe noted that the Exhibitor “affords perfect protection to maps within it from dust, dirt and water, while affording easy facility for observing the map at any time when on a journey in any weather.”
The Road Map Exhibitor predates later — and equally short-lived — automobile map developments, such as the wrist map of the 1920s and the Italian Iter-Auto, a motorized map-roll, from the 1930s. None of the devices caught on, and conventional maps remained the order of the day.
As a soldier, Metcalfe had worked at the Frankford Arsenal, where he patented a number of small-arms inventions and later a neat little pocket notepad. He died in August 1927 at the age of 80.