The automobile is a beautiful toy,
And a useful one, too, as everyone knows;
But you really can’t count it an unalloyed joy
For it’s only a pleasure, as far as it goes.
— Florida Highways, December 1923
While automobile use was on the rise in the 1910s and 1920s, state and local governments across the United States struggled to build the roads necessary for safe and speedy motoring. Florida, with its unique and varied geography, posed some particularly daunting challenges for motorists and road builders alike. The Florida State Legislature created the State Road Department in 1915, along with a fund to aid highway construction. Fifteen percent of the money collected for automobile registrations was set aside to help support the new projects, along with a new property tax.
Despite the efforts of both state and federal governments to provide a system of good roads, however, curious visitors to Florida frequently ran into trouble getting from place to place. Their enthusiasm for exploring the Sunshine State knew no bounds, but it would be a few years before the state’s road system could catch up. The following photos depict some of the trouble Florida’s early motorists encountered.
Interested in the history of the roads in your county? The former State Road Department’s publication Florida Highways is an excellent place to start your research. Visit the State Library of Florida to get a look.
You might also be interested in our collection of photographs from the Florida Department of Transportation.