Wall Drug - before the interstate

Wall Drug, in Wall, South Dakota, is among of the most interesting (and most kitschy) places in the west. It remains a "must-stop" for anyone heading west to Mount Rushmore. Originally, Wall Drug was just a tiny drug store... then they began offering "free ice-cold water." Well, lots of places would give travelers free water, but Wall Drug advertised that fact far and wide with a huge number of clever road signs. The result was an incredible boon--now Wall Drug is a monstrous Disney-esque attraction that has taken over much of the town.

The map above—from 1936—shows just how godforsaken Wall was in the 30s. The roads aren't paved, they're just dirt.  The exception are the red roads—they're gravel—and that was as good as it got. So if you ventured across this desert-dry region by car, you wouldn't be able to go much above 35 mph. And in the pre-air-conditioning era, you'd get pretty hot. So you can see the genius of offering "ice-cold" water to thirsty travelers. If only the folks at Wall had thought of putting that water in fancy plastic bottles, and charging $4 a piece—alas, that innovation in water delivery would come later. (You can zoom in on the map above!)

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