In appreciation of the Thomas Guide

thomas-guide-2009.jpgBefore there was Google Maps — and still today, if an Angeleno really wants to know where something is located — there was the Thomas Bros. street atlas, aka the Thomas Guide. At The Daily, Swati Pandey digs into the story behind the map book that used to be in every car in L.A. Excerpt:

For decades, all of Southern ’s commuting legions, from privileged teens to weathered truckers, relied on the Thomas Guide — a thick, spiral-bound atlas with every neighborhood, landmark and freeway on-ramp indexed and marked on its pages, gridded by number and letter.

George Coupland Thomas, a cartographer, founded Thomas Bros. Maps in Oakland in 1915 with his brothers Gilbert and Leonard, who both left the company soon after to pursue other careers. Thomas nurtured his company and devoted to it his gift of extreme precision. He sent workers down every new or altered road to make each map, rather than relying on tips. He claimed to be accurate to within 10 feet.

George didn’t have the best head for business — his lone attempt at a slogan was the elliptical, nonrhythmic, “If it’s a map, try us” — but he made some smart decisions. He transformed the shape and size of his maps, moving from fold-ups that quickly lost their crispness to a bound book. And at the end of World War II, he moved the company to Los Angeles, where Thomas Bros. would ride the seemingly unending boom in residents and roads.

Thomas Bros. eventually moved to Irvine, was swallowed up Rand McNally in 1999, and in 2009 left the state altogether — for Skokie, Illinois and Bangalore, India.

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