In Which I Learn A Sad Fact About Iowa’s State Highway Map of 1947


So first of all, I discovered that the Iowa Department of Transportation has put what looks like all the Official State Highway Maps it’s ever issued up on its web site. So if you ever want to know how you might get from Des Moines to … Some … Other Moines, Iowa, using only the marked highways of 1922, there you go. By there I mean to one or the other Moines. Wait, they have a county named Grundy? How many Iowa counties do share names with Archie characters, anyway? Well, not my business.

But the sad thing. That story I had read about in Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region? About a Martian who comes to Earth looking for the best the planet has to offer and gets told to go to Iowa in a non-sarcastic manner? Overblown. The back of the 1947 map does talk about showing a Martian the best of Earth, but it’s not a story. I was so hoping for a cartoon with a lovely Prototype Gidney And/Or Cloyd looking at cornfields and zipping off in his flying saucer to tell fellow Martians about this, and yes I know Gidney and Cloyd were from the Moon thank you, but no. That they have is a story about the way this could be a story. And I want to quote it because I know I was giggling for a good while about what I like to think you were too and I should let Iowa’s enthusiasts have their chance.

We call it Iowa

Some day, when the mystery of space is no longer a mystery and voyages between planets are successfully accomplished, a neighbor from Planet Mars may visit Planet Earth. Should he do so, doubtless he will be curious to learn the way of the living creatures that are in ascendancy on Planet Earth. It is certain that in due time he will be directed to the United States of America, there to behold a land and a people filled with imperfections but, nevertheless, enjoying the greatest advances yet made upon this planet toward a comfortable and pleasurable existence.

Should all this come to pass, our neighbor from Mars is almost certain to find these United States of America very bewildering. In our great cities he will find the triumphant steel and masonry achievements of our builders within a stone’s throw of slum districts where human beings must live without hope of quiet and comfort and cleanliness, where are are no flowers or birds or grass or trees or open spaces. Is this the best this planet has to offer? In other sections of this land of ours he will travel, league upon league, through areas where living conditions are primitive and a meager and stunted existence is all that has been achieved. Is this the good life that he has come so far to see? Is there nowhere within our borders an area where our Martian neighbor may be shown a comprehensible segment of the best that Planet Earth, through the ages, has succeeded in evolving?

There is. We call it Iowa. It is located near the heart of the Nation. Its area and population are each slightly less than two percent of that Nation. Nature has favored it with a temperate climate, ample rainfall and productive soil; natural resources that attract thoughtful, industrious people who expect to work for a living and who have reason for confidence that their efforts will be rewarded. Of such fibre were our forebears, emigrants from many lands. Of such fibre are the more than two and one-half million people now dwelling within our borders.

In today’s complex social order we are all specialists. Through the centuries we have found it efficient for the individual or group to learn to do certain things well, and to exchange the resulting products of their efforts for the surplus products of other specialists. In Iowa we are primarily specialists in the production of food. The one million Iowans, for whom the farms of Iowa are home, produce the food consumed by many times their number. No other like number of people, dwelling upon a like area of the earth’s surface, are equally successful specialists in the art of food production. And nowhere on this earth is there greater opportunity for a satisfying life than on the farms of Iowa.

Sixty percent of our people dwell in our cities and towns. They too are specialists, but in many different and equally essential fields. Among these are found the usual quota in the professions and in the retail and service fields Many are engaged in processing and marketing the products of the farm; others in the manufacture and distribution of the equipment and suplies used by their farmer customers. While the major part of the industrial development of the State is closely related to its basic industry, Agriculture, the manufacturers of the State have won pre-eminence in other widely diversified lines, such as pearl buttons, road-building equipment, and washing machines. In recent years, several of the nation’s largest corporations have chosen Iowa for the location of important manufacturing branches. Here they find better living conditions and lower living costs for employees than in the crowded industrial areas. Undoubtedly these conditions are conductive to the friendly employer-employee relationship that is so essential to a successful industrial employee.

Yes, Good Neighbor from Mars, in a day’s drive over our highways or in a few hours by plane, we can show you an area that is emblematic of the best thus far developed on this Planet Earth. we expect to make it better. WE CALL IT IOWA.

So my impressions: (1) Did a different person write each paragraph? Because it seems like they lost the Martian thread along the way there. And (2) So the takeaways of what Iowa specializes in are:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Pearl buttons
  3. Road-building equipment
  4. Washing machines

So (3) I think this means my grandparents put together were Iowa? I don’t understand it, but there’s no arguing with the lovely line-art illustration of tall, barely-windowed buildings with smokestacks. It’s all right there.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

3 thoughts on “In Which I Learn A Sad Fact About Iowa’s State Highway Map of 1947”

    1. Good instinct, but had they invented ‘wow’ as early as 1947? I’m not sure they had the word before about 1966 when pinball machines wanted to use smaller bulbs than would light for special, and having them light for WOW seemed practical.

      Liked by 1 person

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