"Arizona Highways" Magazine

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Cover image for the January 1949 edition of Arizona Highways Magazine.

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The February 1949 cover to Arizona Highways Magazine.

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The March 1949 cover to Arizona Highways Magazine.

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The May 1949 cover to Arizona Highways Magazine.

Created in the early 1920s, Arizona Highways magazine reflects directly automobiles’ emergence as the United States’ preferred mode of transportation; as states began to develop new roads for cars to travel on, a handful also began to develop magazines to entice motorists to use such roads.[1] When viewed now, almost 100 years after its inception, Arizona Highways provides “a unique resource for examining how the automobile changed the history of travel” and “helped to shape identities of place in America.”[2] Specifically, Arizona Highways was and is still sponsored by Arizona’s Department of Transportation, which decreed that its director “may spend monies from the state highway fund…to encourage tourist travel to and through this state by giving publicity to points and places of historic interest, climatic and recreational advantages, the possibilities of successful pursuits and industrial enterprises and other information that…tends to attract visitors to this state.”[3] Arizona legislation specifies that this “publicity shall be given through the medium of the magazine ‘Arizona Highways’” as well as maps and other descriptive material.[4] Such legislation also allows for the free distribution of Arizona Highways magazine at institutions such as chambers of commerce, schools, libraries, and hotels but notes that “the number of free copies of the magazine each months shall not exceed ten per cent of the total number of paid subscriptions.”[5]


Of the magazines created in the early twentieth century by states looking to lure motorists to their newly developed roads, none are as old or as heavily photography-based as Arizona Highways magazine.[6] However, such association of the magazine with rich, color photographs was not the case at the magazine’s first publication. Rather, in 1921, the first issue of Arizona Highways was a simple newsletter, and the magazine was not published in the “true magazine format” associated with Arizona Highways until April 15, 1925. Although the publication format of the magazine has undergone several changes since its inception, it has always contained both scenic photographs—black-and-white in the early years—and travel stories.[7] Such early issues also contained information detailing, in depth, the Arizona Highway Department’s road-building projects.” These pages were often “livened up” by cartoons by “humorists” such as Bill Mauldin, who later won a Pulitzer Prize, and Hal Empie.[8]


In 1937, the magazine shifted dramatically from its focus on road construction and target audience of contractors and engineers. Instead, under the direction of editor Raymond Carlson, the magazine began to focus on the average consumer.[9] In part, this shift was successful through the introduction of color photography in 1940. After its first color issue, Arizona Highways “became a pioneer in color printing technology.” Starting in 1944, the magazine featured regularly full-color spreads of photography, which culminated in December of 1945, when Arizona Highways became the “first nationally circulated magazine with full color on every page.” [10] Among its noted photographers is Ansel Adams, who contributed frequently, often in black-in-white, in the magazine’s early years. Publishing famous Adams images such as Arches, North Court, Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona (1968) and Saguaro Cactus, Sunrise, Arizona (1942), Arizona Highways also was one of the first publications in which Adams’s color photography appeared.[11] Indicative of the quality of its content, as it developed throughout the mid-twentieth century, Arizona Highways earned several awards and increasing popularity.[12] Specifically, beyond its portraits and scenic photography, the magazine was “beloved” by readers for its historical articles, all of which were “written in a colloquial style for a popular audience.”[13]


As of 2021, every issue of Arizona Highways magazine has been digitized—a total of roughly 40,000 pages of material.[14] One can find the digital issues on the Arizona Memory Project’s website, which updates every few months with the latest issues of the magazine, still in print. The Arizona Department of Transportation has undertaken several studies within the past ten years to analyze quantitatively the impact of Arizona Highways magazine on tourism within Arizona. Currently, the publication boasts over one million readers, circulates in all 50 states, and is present in two-thirds of the countries around the world.[15] A 2012 study examining the benefit-to-cost ratio of Arizona Highways found that a “very high percentage” of the magazine’s subscribers have taken trips to or within Arizona in the past five years, with many visiting several times. Additionally, the study found that subscribers reported that the magazine “has substantially increased their interest in Arizona travel and is helpful with respect to making travel plans.” Specifically, the study reported that subscribers “feel the photographs in the magazine, and the ‘scenic drive’ section…increase their interest in traveling in Arizona.”[16] Lastly, in addition to concluding that Arizona Highways magazine has a favorable benefit-to-cost ratio, the study discovered that subscribers used the magazine most often “to help select specific attractions or destinations, to select Arizona as a travel destination in general, and to determine travel routes.”[17] With such statistics in mind, it is of both great benefit and interest to examine a selection of articles from past Arizona Highways magazine issues; such features indicate which sectors of tourism in Arizona were prolific at the time and what magazine staffers believed would attract visitors the most.

[1] “Arizona Highways Online,” Arizona Memory Project, accessed June 29, 2022, https://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/collection/aho.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Tourism encouragement; Arizona highways magazine,” Arizona State Legislature, accessed June 29, 2022, https://www.azleg.gov/ars/28/07312.htm.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Arizona Highways Online,” Arizona Memory Project.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Kathy Ritchie, “Entire Arizona Highways Magazine Archive Available in Arizona Memory Project’s Digital Library,” KJZZ.org, published March 11, 2021, https://kjzz.org/content/1665837/entire-arizona-highways-magazine-archive-available-arizona-memory-projects-digital.

[15] Debra Pryor, Diane Ginn, Deborah Meyers, and Kathleen Pryor, “The Impact of Arizona Highways Magazine’s Facebook Page,” Final Report SPR-717, prepared for the Arizona Department of Transportation (February 2014), file:///Users/ouintern/Downloads/dot_27100_DS1.pdf.

[16] Kathleen Andereck, “The Impact of Arizona Highways Magazine on Tourism,” Final Report 686, prepared for the Arizona Department of Transportation (March 2012), https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/23983.

[17] Ibid.