Where Did the First Road Signs Come From?

Starting in 1906, regional AAA clubs across the nation began paying for and installing wooden signs to help motorists find their way.

AAA played a key role in establishing our nation’s roads, supporting the formation of an early version of the Department of Transportation in 1903, and advocating for safe roads ever since.

But many of our nation’s early roads were unmarked. And what good is a road if you don’t know where it leads?

So, starting in 1906, regional AAA clubs began paying for and installing wooden signs to help motorists find their way.

The work was as voluminous as it was necessary. Unmarked roads stretched the length and breadth of the continental United States.

In 1914, AAA started a cohesive transcontinental signage project, installing more than 4,000 signs in one stretch between Los Angeles and Kansas City alone.

Above, a road sign maintenance patrolman from the California State Automobile Association installs a sign along the Lincoln Highway, which led from New York City to San Francisco.

Above, a vehicle belonging to the road sign department of the Auto Club of Buffalo, N.Y., parks near a AAA sign pointing the way to Niagara Falls.

It’s another illustration of the association’s quiet but critical role in the development of our nation’s infrastructure – and combined with our history of cartography, travel planning and roadside assistance, we’ve been helping motorists find their way ever since.

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2 thoughts on “Where Did the First Road Signs Come From?

  1. I have used AAA trip tickets and now their gps maps for more then 40 years. They are always cutting edge and up to date!

  2. I remember AAA road signs in southern New Jersey in the 50’s. They were rectangular, white with black letters, with an oval with AAA inside. By then they had been supplanted by county and state highway signs, but they were still prevalent.

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