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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

Collection Overview

Panoramic Maps, offer "bird's-eye" views of nineteenth and early twentieth century cities and towns across the nation. Each map contains a detailed look at architecture and urban planning of the period, and allows users to zoom in on particular areas.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

Related Collections and Exhibits

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Specific guidance for searching this collection.

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject Index, Contributor Index, and Geographic Locations.

For help with general search strategies, go to Finding Items in American Memory.


The Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, collection depicts U.S. and Canadian cities and towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Also known as bird's-eye views, perspective maps, and aero views, these panoramic maps are drawings of cities portrayed as if viewed from above ground level looking down at an oblique angle. Panoramic maps were frequently commissioned by a chamber of commerce or real estate agency and were often subscribed to by various members of the rising middle class who displayed views of their hometown with great civic pride. These maps reveal much about the great contrasts and contradictions of the industrial age and the progressive era.

1) Industrialization and the Development of U.S. Cities

Panoramic maps depict a loftier urban architecture than earlier U.S. maps. Taller buildings were made possible by the nation's industrial development -- the manufacture of steel, the invention of the elevator, the development of fireproofing -- and the imagination of a new breed of architects such as Louis Sullivan and Daniel H. Burnham. These "elevator buildings," which began to appear particularly in New York, New York during the 1870s, were the precursors of our current skyscrapers. The Great East River Suspension Bridge, better known as the Brooklyn Bridge, is another example of the urban development made possible by industrialization, namely, the manufacture of steel wire cable.

Bird's eye view of the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, 1872

Raleigh, North Carolina, C. Drie, Mapmaker and Publisher, 1872.

Search and select the map of a small town such as Delphi, Indiana; a mid-size location such as Lexington, Kentucky, or Buffalo, New York; or a large city such as Chicago, Illinois, or San Francisco, California, and examine the urban landscape. Stores, houses, industrial plants, harbors filled with ships, trains in motion, parks and city thoroughfares filled with pedestrians, buggies, automobiles, and much more are rendered by the mapmakers.

Use the "zoom" feature provided with each map. For example, click on this map of Raleigh, North Carolina and use the options at the bottom of the page to enlarge the area of the map above the word "Raleigh" to see trains.

The mapmaker of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1902 shows factories and foundries belching the smoke that made Pittsburgh one of the nation's most industrially polluted cities throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

  • What other evidence of industrialization and the growth of U.S. cities do you see in these maps?
  • The Guilded Age, as the late nineteenth century was known, was considered an age of extremes. Why do you think that was?
  • What mood or feeling did the cartographers convey in their depictions of America's industrialized towns and cities?
  • Do you believe that the costs and benefits of industrialization were in balance during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1902. Drawn by T. M. Fowler.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, T. M. Fowler, Cartographer, 1902.

Every era manifests its own contrasts and contradictions, and the industrial era was no exception. At the same time that pollutants from industrial furnaces poured across the rising cities, individuals such as John Muir and his friend President Theodore Roosevelt jump started the Conservation Movement. Although the movement began as an attempt to save the beauty of the wilderness, it eventually grew to include a concern for the urban environment. Today's environmental movement did not begin until the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. At that time, Americans began to question deeply their faith in a progress so rooted in industrial development and technology.

2) Westward Expansion

Eureka, Humboldt County, California. Copyright by A.C. Noe & G.R. Georgeson. 1902

Eureka, California, Britton & Rey, Photo-Lithographers, 1902.

The promise of new lands and economic opportunities (often depicted in panoramic maps) inspired many people to head west in the nineteenth century. By the mid-1800s, pioneers were crossing the plains and the Rockies to follow dreams of gold, land, or other business opportunities. In the wake of this westward expansion, towns and cities grew rapidly in number and size. Panoramic maps were a boon to real estate agents looking to sell land in and around these burgeoning urban centers. The maps allowed the potential buyer to ascertain potential business opportunities in the existing infrastructure, the gaps in development, and the sites where vacant land was available for development. Indeed, these maps were used to attract commerce and to spur real estate sales as often as to foster civic pride.

Read stories of those who made the long trek west in the collection "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900. Then search on the names of towns mentioned in these narratives in Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929. Or, browse the collection's Geographic Location Index to find maps from a particular time period or from a given state.

Grand Haven, Michigan A. Ruger, Cartographer, 1868

Grand Haven, Michigan, A. Ruger, Cartographer, 1868.

An 1868 map of Grand Haven, Michigan evinces another aspect of westward expansion. The cartographer depicts a small camp of Indians that has been marginalized just outside of that busy port city, hinting at the conflicts that occurred when millions of settlers moved into Native American homelands. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory in 1874 brought immigrants, land speculators, and gold seekers to this sacred land of the Sioux. The town of Aberdeen was located in the Dakota Territory in 1883. It was laid out under the direction of Charles Prior, an agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. Look closely at this bird's eye view of Aberdeen and consider the following questions:

  • What does the map of Aberdeen suggest about the role of the railroad in this town? What does the fact that the town was laid out by a railroad agent suggest? Who published this map and what does this suggest about the town?
  • What does the map of Grand Haven suggest about the relationship between Native Americans and westward expansion? Why might a cartographer have included this visual reference to Native Americans in his map? What does this reference suggest about the town depicted?
  • How did Native Americans respond to the development of towns such as Aberdeen?
  • What interaction, if any, existed between towns such as Aberdeen and Native American reservations?

Along with numerous treaties, the U.S. government established military installations and reservations to keep Native Americans from uniting to drive away settlers in the prairie states as well as on the western frontier. A few panoramic maps depict these nineteenth-century military encampments. See, for example, a bird's eye view of Fort Collins, Colorado in the 1860s. This fort was established in 1864 and wagon trains, which may be seen in the map, departed from there to travel the Cherokee Trail. The collection also includes an 1891 view of Fort Reno, Oklahoma Territory. It was not until the battle of Wounded Knee in 1890 that the U.S. military ended Native American resistance on the western frontier.

3) Immigration

View of the city of New York and vicinity / August R. Ohman, map publisher, draughtsman & engraver.

New York, New York, August R. Ohman, Publisher, 1907.

Between 1880 and 1920, 27 million immigrants, mainly from southern and eastern Europe, entered the United States, in a few cases lured by what they saw depicted (accurately or not) on a panoramic map. Cities such as New York, Boston, Baltimore, and New Orleans were the gateways for immigrants coming to the United States. Search on the names of these and other such cities to view panoramic maps of those locations. Do the maps show evidence of the influx of immigrants? Do the maps depict these cities as the immigrants would have seen them? Compare a 1907 map of New York, New York with early films of both Ellis Island and an immigrant ghetto in the city. To find the films, search on the term immigrant in the collection, The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906.

A map of Cleveland, Ohio, carefully notes twenty-one schools and sixty-three churches.

  • Why would it be important to note so many schools and churches on a panoramic map?
  • What role would churches and public schools have played in the life of an immigrant family?
  • Did the average public school system see itself as charged with a clear responsibility for initiating an immigrant's child to the English language, U.S. customs, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?
  • How was education viewed by most Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century?
Cleveland, Ohio, A. Ruger, Artist. 1877

Cleveland, Ohio, A. Ruger, Artist. 1877.

Trace the origins of your own family. Then, search for maps of the different cities where your ancestors and their families settled. Why did your family members choose to migrate to the locations they chose and not to other places?

  • Knowing what you know today, to which city depicted in the panoramic maps would you have chosen to migrate if you had arrived on U.S. shores between 1870 and 1920?
  • In the mid-nineteenth century, the Know Nothing Party was against having non-Anglo-Saxon Protestants, particularly Catholics, immigrate to the U.S. Find out in which cities the Know Nothings (also known as Nativists) were the strongest, then search to see if there are panoramic maps of these cities. Do the maps hint at anything about politics and immigration?
  • In what way is the issue of labor related to the issue of immigration? Does a scarcity of jobs fully explain the strong anti-Chinese movement in the West, increased lynching in the South, or the prevalence of anti-Catholic attitudes in Texas or Massachusetts?
  • How did the idea of national unity manage to develop amid the growing cultural diversity of the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century? How might the panoramic maps have detracted from or contributed to this sense of national unity?
  • Learn more about these topics in the Teacher page's presentation, Immigration.

4) Improvements in Printing and the Emergence of Popular Culture

Dan Moeller

Dan Moeller, Jersey City, 1909-1911. Baseball Cards.

The proliferation of the mechanized printing press and nineteenth-century improvements in lithography, photoengraving, and other printing processes, coincided with the period depicted in Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929. Such strides made it possible to produce multiple inexpensive copies of these maps. These processes also made possible the inexpensive production of song sheets, advertising flyers, magazines, and colorful baseball cards. These materials became far more accessible to the average American during the second half of the nineteenth century and a "popular culture" began to emerge from coast to coast. That is, aspects of culture came to be shared, to greater or lesser degrees, across lines of region, race, religion, politics, and class.

See the collections, Music for the Nation, 1870-1885, and Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets to learn more about popular music of the era. See Baseball Cards to learn more about another item of popular culture that owed a debt to improved printing techniques.

New York and Brooklyn, with Jersey City and Hoboken water front.

New York and Brooklyn, with Jersey City and Hoboken, Parsons & Atwater, Cartographer, Currier & Ives, Publisher, Copyright 1892.

  • Through print, the United States was beginning to refine its self-definition locally, regionally, and nationally. How did the print medium contribute to America's definition of itself as a nation?
  • How did the print medium contribute to defining regional and local identities?
  • How did the panoramic maps, specifically, contribute to these definitions?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the panoramic maps and the other print materials of the time? Consider the audience, subject matter, funding, distribution, and use of these materials.

5) Railroad Transportation

Prairie du Chien, Crawford County, Wisconsin 1870. Chicago Lithog. Co.

Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, Albert Ruger, Mapmaker, 1870.

Panoramic maps depict many cities that lay along railroad routes. It is possible to better understand the importance of the railroad to a particular city by setting a panoramic map along side other historic materials concerning that city. For example, by drawing from the collections, Railroad Maps, 1828-1900 and Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910, as well as Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, on can form a composite picture of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

This is another of the important points on the upper Mississippi River. It is one of the oldest settlements in the Northwest . . . beautifully located on a level prairie several miles in extent, about four miles above the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Prairie du Chien is the Western terminus of the . . . Prairie du Chien branch of the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, and is a shipping point of considerable importance, as much of the wheat of Minnesota and Iowa is brought here in barges and transferred to [rail]cars, and a large amount of the merchandise transshipped from the cars to steamers, for points on the upper Mississippi. . . . a large passenger trade is also done. The population is about 4000. The town contains six churches, several fine hotels, good schools. . . It is 71 miles from Dubuque, 292 miles from St. Paul, 194 miles (by rail) from Milwaukee.

Page 25 [Transcription]
The Minnesota Guide. A Handbook of Information for the Travelers, Pleasure Seekers and Immigrants . . .,
Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910.

  • How does compiling these sources (dated 1869, 1870, and 1872) help you to understand the city of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the way that each item depicts the railroad and its role in Prairie du Chien?
  • What purposes do these items suggest that the railroad served in this town?
  • What might have been the daily routine of a railroad conductor in the upper Midwest or that of a steamboat pilot on the upper Mississippi?

A contributing factor to the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1857 was the fact that railroads had overbuilt and too often defaulted on debts. In domino fashion, land schemes and development projects that depended on projected new rail routes failed as well. Although by 1868 the town of Portage, Wisconsin appears to have regained firm financial ground, it had suffered a setback in 1857 when plans to make it a terminus for a northern branch of the La Crosse and Milwaukee Rail Road failed because of the economic downturn. Other towns along the projected route, such as the site that railroad surveyor Andrew McFarland Davis, called the "brisk new town" of Chippewa Falls, also suffered when the panic prohibited follow-through on A Preliminary Railroad Survey in Wisconsin.

  • How might the failure of railroads have affected the growth and ultimate identity of cities such as La Crosse and Chippewa Falls?
  • What other forms of transportation existed in these cities? How might theses various modes of transportation have affected the growth and identity of these places?

Put together maps and other items pertaining to specific locations to develop an understanding of the importance of land and railroad development to the growth of the upper-Midwest region during the mid-nineteenth century. What materials might you draw upon to compose a multimedia portrait of, for example, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Davenport, Iowa, or Bismarck, North Dakota? After you find a panoramic map with which you wish to work, search across the American Memory collections on the name of the city depicted in that map.

6) Water Ways

Notice that nearly all the cities depicted in panoramic maps lay along a river, a lake or an ocean. Access to waterways was just one element of the infrastructure that made a city viable. This access ensured not only potable water but also a power supply for industrial development, and a corridor for the shipment of goods and produce. Remember that sailing craft were central to the transport of agricultural supplies, industrial goods, and the U.S. mail until the early twentieth century.

Perspective map of Columbus, Ga., county seat [of Muscogee Cou]nty, 188[6].

Columbus, Georgia, H. Wellge, mapmaker, Beck & Pauli Lith. Co., 1886.

Towns that had a harbor depended on them for growth and development and the panoramic mapmaker obligingly depicted their ports as busy and industrious places. Among the busy port cities of the Great Lakes region, there are panoramic maps of Duluth, Minnesotta, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Saginaw, Michigan. Along the Mississippi River, there were other busy ports for the mapmakers to record, such as New Orleans, Louisiana, and St. Louis, Missouri.

Examining these maps and complementing them with other items from American Memory affords a better understanding of the roles and significance of waterways. For example, what does this map and citation pertaining to Columbus, Georgia, suggest about the role of the Chattahoochee River in this city?

As the Chattahoochee crosses the fall line at Columbus, Georgia, it falls 125 feet within 2 1/2 miles producing a potential energy of between 66,000 and 99,000 horsepower. That water power made Columbus one of the leading industrial centers within the South, attracting investors and entrepreneurs. As early as 1828 the river powered a grist mill and by the 1840s it supplied power for several textile mills. By 1880 Muscogee h. p. per sq. mile was greater than any other county south of New York. Conversion of that power to electricity began with arc lighting in 1880.

Page 1
Water Power Development at the Falls of the Chattahoochee,
Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey.

  • What is located along the waterways that are depicted in these maps? Businesses, warehouses, factories, mills, churches, schools, residences?
  • What is the relationship between the waterways and the roads and railways of these towns?
  • What do these maps suggest about the purposes that waterways served in these places?
  • What aspects of the cities' lives were dependent upon the waterways? Would cities have been viable in these locations if it were not for the waterways? What else might have made the cities viable?
  • How might the addition of a railroad have changed the uses and importance of water ways in these cities?
  • How vital was water to the industrial and transportation needs of cities such as Pawtucket and Central Falls, Rhode Island, Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1871, Sandusky, Ohio, in about 1898, or San Francisco, California, about 1860? How vital were the industry and transportation capabilities of these cities to their existence?

7) Topography and History

Cripple Creek mining district, the great gold camp of Colorado / bird's eye view by C.H. Amerine ; compliments of the Cripple Creek Sunday Herald.

Cripple Creek Mining District, C.H. Amerine, Cartographer, 1895.

Topography comes from two Greek words, topo meaning "place" and graphien meaning "to write." Thus, the work of a topographer is to describe a place (in written and/or cartographic form). Physical topographers focus their study on natural objects, while cultural topographers focus on man-made objects and events. Topographers also try to understand the relationship of the parts to the whole. Is this mountain pass like all the others in this range or does it give better access the sea? Is this building architecturally the same or unique when compared to others of its class? Sometimes topographers ask broad questions regarding how a site fits into a bigger social, geopolitical, or economic picture. As you might imagine, topography complements the study of history (and vice versa).

While bird's-eye view maps are not topographical studies, they do provide a map reader with certain information about topography and land use. For instance, railways normally run through a city across a flat grade, as appears to be the case in Macon, Georgia, in 1887, South Bend, Indiana, in 1866, and Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1900. Yet, it is decidedly not the case in the Cripple Creek Mining District in Colorado. Given that exception to the rule, one might find it interesting to use panoramic maps and other materials to do a study of the topography of the Cripple Creek area, looking at the interaction of both physical and cultural elements.

Cripple Creek, 1896.

Cripple Creek, Colorado, Phillips & Desjardins, Cartographers, Copyright 1896.

The town of Cripple Creek lay in the heart of the Cripple Creek mining district. The district was an area of six square miles located on the western side of Pike's Peak in central Colorado. Its sloping hills and high meadows were good for raising cattle, which is what the first white settlers there did.

Over 32 millennia, volcanic activity and seepage had allowed veins of gold to solidify in the rock crevices of these ranges. In 1890, a local prospector discovered gold in Poverty Gulch, later known as the town of Cripple Creek. By 1915, about $400 million worth of ore had been mined from the Cripple Creek area. The nearby chlorination mills and reduction works, as well as the railroad, helped to make Cripple Creek a mecca for those looking to make a fortune from gold.

Railroads had to bridge deep chasms and canyons to reach the Cripple Creek mining area. Serpentine roadbeds were built to support the railroad tracks. The winding path of the Florence & Cripple Creek line (the first railroad to reach the town of Cripple Creek) is visible on the map above. The principal mining camps of the Cripple Creek area were also reachable, at one time or another, via the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, the Short Line Railroad, and the Midland Terminal Railway (a branch of the Colorado Midland Railway).

It is said that during the height of the gold rush, Cripple Creek had as many assay offices (for analyzing ore) as grocery stores. After Cripple Creek burned to the ground in 1896, its many wood buildings were soon replaced by brick ones. The new town is shown in this 1896 map of the town of Cripple Creek.

  • Describe the land formations that surround Cripple Creek.
  • Did miners work in streams, open pit mines, or undergound mines?
  • Where did miners and others in the Cripple Creek district live? How did they spend or save their money?
  • To what extent do you think that the land of Cripple Creek and its geological characteristics were responsible for making that city what it is today? How might the land have shaped the culture of Cripple Creek? What other factors might have shaped this town?
  • To what extent do people and their activities impact the landscape and shape the culture of a place?
  • While every inch of these maps may be worthy of study, are they meticulously drawn? Are there distortions? Would you use a panoramic map to build a railroad? To select a site for a factory, an office, a school, or a home? Why or why not?


Critical Thinking

Historical thinking requires analysis and Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, can be used to develop this important skill. A researcher must dig deeply to find both traditional and alternative historical narratives, be willing to study these sources closely, and to synthesize a wide range of information. An historian must be able to comprehend content, as well as to interconnect information from a variety of sources through chronological thinking, the formulation of good questions, analysis and interpretation of data, and the ability to identify what is relevant. The following activity ideas provide the starting points to practice these skills.

Chronological Thinking

It is possible to use material from Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, to develop chronological thinking skills. Search for two or more maps of the same city at different time periods and compare them, with an eye toward understanding the rapid growth of cities and the changes in urban life during the era of industrialization. Then compile a list of changes as shown by the maps.

Chicago from Schiller Street north side to 12th Street south side,br />1868 (detail)

Chicago (detail), A. Ruger, Mapmaker, 1868.

The city of Chicago, c. 1892 (detail)

Chicago (detail), Currier & Ives, Printer, 1892.

Chicago, central business section, c. 1916 (detail)

Chicago (detail), Arno B.Reincke, Mapmaker, 1916.

Panoramic maps of Chicago, when compared across three different time periods, clearly demonstrate the tenor of urban development in the era of industrialization. Use the mouth of the Chicago River as a reference point to answer questions such as:

  • Between 1868 and 1916, how did harbor buildings and shipping traffic change at the mouth of the Chicago River?
  • How did the presence of railroads in Chicago change over time?
  • Can you locate venues of recreation in all three maps: baseball diamonds, parks, beaches, promenades?
The City of Chicago, showing the burnt district.

Chicago, Showing the Burnt District Currier & Ives, Printer, 1874.

Bird's-eye-view of Chicago as it was before the great fire. Drawn by Theodore R. Davis.

Chicago As It Was before the Great Fire, Theodore R. Davis, Mapmaker, 1871.

On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire swept across about 1,900 acres in the center of the city, destroying approximately 2,200 stores, 160 manufacturing sites, and the homes of nearly 100,000 people – an estimated 47 percent of the property owned in the city. How did this fire affect the growth of Chicago? Search American Memory on the term fire AND 1871 to research the answer. You will find, for example, The Lakeside Memorial of the Burning of Chicago in the Books section of The Nineteenth Century in Print. Is the information from such sources represented in the panoramic maps?

  • How did the growth of Chicago after the fire affect the city's lake front?
  • How did the architecture of downtown Chicago change after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Search American Memory on the terms Louis Sullivan and Daniel H. Burnham to learn more.
  • Does the 1874 map accurately reflect that portion of Chicago that remained destroyed three years after the fire?

Some towns have comprehensive plans for their future development. Does your hometown have one? If so, get a copy and envision what your city will look like in twenty, fifty, or one hundred years. If there is no town plan, or you wish to develop a better plan, work in a group to create one. You might want to consider topics such as city planning, the importance of demographics to planning, commercial and residential zoning, the importance of both efficiency and beauty to a healthy city, gaining political approval of a plan, and implementing change.

Historical Comprehension

Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 1897. Drawn by T. M. Fowler

Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania T. M. Fowler, Mapmaker, 1897.

Panoramic maps of certain industrial cities in the late nineteenth century, studied in conjunction with films from other American Memory collections, allow one to understand the life of a factory worker in industrialized North America.

Click, for instance, on the map of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania and locate the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. Then, search on the term Wilmerding in the collection, Inside an American Factory: Westinghouse Works, 1904, and select the format "Film, Video." You will find three films from 1904 that take you inside the Westinghouse Air Brake factory to see foundrymen pouring hot liquid into molds and performing other tasks. Together, the map and the films form a particularly powerful narrative regarding the life of a Wilmerding factory worker.

Westinghouse Air Brake Co. Westinghouse Co. works (moulding scene) / American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.

Westinghouse Air Brake Company (Moulding Scene) G. W. "Billy" Bitzer, Cameraman, July 23, 1904.

  • What were the activities of a Westinghouse worker?
  • Where, in Wilmerding, might these working men have lived? What percent of their wages went into housing?
  • Was Wilmerding a company town the way that Pullman, Illinois was?
  • What was the relationship of the factory to the rest of the town?
  • Do you think that these men would have understood the importance of transportation to the success of the industrial era economy?
details in caption

Sheep Run, Chicago Stockyards Cameraman, William Heise(?) July 31, 1897.

Another set of resources includes an 1890 Bird's-Eye View of the Chicago Packing Houses & Union Stock Yards and films from America at Work, America at Leisure, 1894-1915 found by searching on chicago illinois stockyards. You will find three films, shot in 1897, which take you inside these same stockyards to see cattle and sheep being driven to slaughter, and the electric trolley that ran inside the Armour plant. Together, the map and films help us to envision daily life in the stockyards and to pose relevant questions.

  • What might an average day of a stockyard worker have been like?
  • Where did the stockyard workers live, relax, and worship?
  • Have you ever heard the expression "back of the yards," also known as "Packing Town?" This was the neighborhood next to the slaughter yards and the meat-packing houses. Although the Chicago stockyards are a thing of the past, the neighborhood retains an identity to this day. Search the Web on the term back of the yards to find out more. Is this area depicted in the panoramic map of the stockyards?
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair provides a literary portrayal of the Chicago stockyards. Did the novelist and the mapmaker depict the stockyards in the same way? What does each media contribute to your understanding of this area?
  • What, specifically, do panoramic maps add to the understanding of factory life and industrialization?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Cartographers invested incredible amounts of time in researching and creating panoramic maps, rendering details with amazing accuracy. For each project, a frame or projection was developed, showing, in perspective, the pattern of streets. The artist then walked the streets, sketching buildings, trees, and other features to present a complete and accurate landscape. In one of his maps, Augustus Koch shaded all the buildings constructed of brick. When late-twentieth-century researchers compared his map to fire insurance maps of that era, the mapmaker's shading proved to be completely accurate.

Dallas, TX  1892

Dallas, Texas, Paul Giraud, 1892.

Nevertheless, one must be careful when analyzing and interpreting these maps or any historical material, and consider the influences behind the creation of such materials. Many of these nineteenth-century panoramas were prepared for a chambers of commerce or for real estate agencies in order to advertise a city's commercial and residential potential. Using this map of Dallas, Texas, discuss ways in which advertisers and other funding sources might have influenced the way that the city is presented. Notice the importance of advertising to this map and the depiction of the city's "projected river and navigation improvements." What do these features suggest about the purpose of this map and the goals of its funders and creator? Did the projected improvements actually take place?

Washington, D.C., E. Sachse, 1852

Washington, D.C., E. Sachse, 1852.

Similarly, in an 1852 View of Washington, the mapmaker presents the Washington Monument as complete and surrounded by a pediment at the base. In fact, however, the monument was not completed until 1884, and the pediment, although part of the original design, was never built. Click to the left-of-center on the horizon line for a close-up of the monument.

Another way to identify errors or exaggerations in maps and the factors that may have caused them is to compare them with photographs of the same locations. Choose the name of a town and search in Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, for a cartographic view; then search on the same town in Panoramic Photographs for a photographer's view of that same location. Is the harbor as busy? Does a specific building have the same number of stories? What is the overall effect of these small differences? Do they matter?

Design a map that promotes the commercial development of your hometown or another town of your choice. What items do you find yourself including and excluding from your map? Why?

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

In 1893, the world's fair was held in Chicago. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage of discovery and was thus called The World's Columbian Exposition. Amidst the Depression of 1893, the fair sought to provide a utopian view of the United States as the fruit of progress generated by uniting the forces of high culture and commerce. The Fair's chief architect, Daniel Burnham, expressed this utopian ideal in the neoclassical building facades, broad walkways, and lush gardens of that portion of the Fair situated along Chicago's waterfront, called the "White City."

Bird's eye view of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.

World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1893.

While the Fair and White City made room for commerce and culture, this utopia did not include African Americans. Blacks were prohibited from exhibiting and systematically excluded from planning or working at the Fair. This fact caused Frederick Douglass, Commissioner of the Fair's Haitian pavilion, to state that at the Fair "the spirit of American caste made itself conspicuously felt against the educated American negro." (Douglass had been U.S. Minister to Haiti, and was invited by that nation to speak at the dedication of their pavilion.) American Blacks did attend the Fair, however, and among those attending were the composers Scott Joplin and Will Marion Cook, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the writer James Weldon Johnson, and Ida Wells, who co-wrote the pamphlet "The Reason Why The Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition."

Panoramic maps of "White City" do not depict or even hint at the segregation and racism that was reaching its height at the turn of the nineteenth century. (Only three years after the Fair, in 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of racial segregation in United States schools in the Plessy v. Ferguson case.) Had the mapmaker been aware, concerned, and free to do so, was there a way that he might have depicted the social problems of this otherwise utopian city?

  • Did American Blacks experience similar exclusion from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the 1883 Southern Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky; the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee; or the 1906 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the St. Louis World's Fair? Can you tell from the maps of these fairs?
  • Was Jim Crow in force on the fairgrounds in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1885, or in Morrisville, Vermont, in 1889? What sources, in addition to the panoramic maps, would you have to research to uncover your answer?
  • In what way do the panoramic maps depict the cities and towns of the United States as utopias?
  • What were the dictates of the mapmakers' craft or business that might have lead the mapmaker to depict a city in a certain light?

Historical Research Capabilities

View of Baltimore City, Md., from the North lith. & print by E. Sachse & Co.

View of Baltimore City, Maryland from the North, E. Sachse & Co., Publisher, 1862.

Historical inquiry depends on the ability to formulate interesting questions and define topics worthy of investigation. Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, provides materials that challenge us to do just that. The collection suggests questions such as:

  • To what extent does the mapmaker help to shape history?
  • Did panoramic mapmakers actually help to populate the urban centers that they depicted as vibrant and growing?
  • Is the goal of the panoramic mapmaker vastly different from that of any other mapmaker -- a military cartographer, for example?

Place a panoramic map alongside a military map and examine the different ways in which they present similar data. Here are two maps of the Baltimore, Maryland area. What are the similarities and differences between the military map on the left, from the collection Civil War Maps, and the panoramic map on the right?

The following collections will provide useful examples of military maps that may be compared to typical panoramic maps.

Military map, Baltimore Co., Md. Compiled from the best authorities and corrected by actual survey under the direction of Col. W. F. Raynolds A.D.C., Chief Eng. 8th Army Corps. Drawn and lithographed in the office of the Chief Eng., 8th Army Corps, by Geo. Kaiser, Pvt. 10th N.Y. Vols.

Military Map, Baltimore County, Maryland, Pvt. Geo. Kaiser, Mapmaker, 1863.

There are only a few panoramic maps that depict nineteenth-century military encampments. See, for example, a bird's-eye view of Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio; Fort Collins in Colorado; or Fort Reno in Oklahoma Territory.


Arts & Humanities

Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, may be used to weave together the study of history and the language arts. Panoramic maps help us to understand and interpret narratives, distinguish fact from fantasy, and develop concepts about place and time. These maps may shed light on a wide variety of literature, including novels, letters, diaries, essays, and poetry. We may enrich and enhance our understanding of U.S. history and literature by comparing information from panoramic maps with other primary sources and works of creative imagination.

Historical Context and Literature: Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Mark Twain's hometown

Hannibal, Missouri, Albert Ruger, Cartographer, 1869.

Panoramic maps may be used to enhance the study of works composed by authors who lived and wrote during the period covered by Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929. One such author is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who was raised in Hannibal, Missouri. Referred to as "America's greatest humorist," Twain wrote many stories about life along the Mississippi River, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi.

There are a number of interesting similarities between panoramic maps and Mark Twain's books. Each medium benefited from improvements in print technology, and both were often sold through subscription. Perhaps the most remarkable similarity between the two is in the extent to which the writer, Mark Twain, and the panoramic cartographer, Albert Ruger, depicted certain colorful aspects of Hannibal, Missouri.

When I was a boy, there was one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. . . Once a day a cheap gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keoduk. . . After all these years I can still picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, . . . a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the levee; a pile of skids on the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town drunkard asleep in the shadow of them; two or three wood flats at the head of the wharf, but nobody to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them; the great Mississippi, the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest away on the other side; the point above the town, and the point below . . . Presently a film of dark smoke appears above one of those remote points: instantly a Negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, "S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin'!"

Page 62
Life on the Mississippi.

  • What details from Twain's description of Hannibal, Missouri can you also find in the map? What are the similarities and differences between the description and the map? What aspects or characteristics of Hannibal does each artist emphasize? What overall effect do you think that each artist was trying to achieve? Is one depiction more idealized than the other? Do the two items convey the same overall sense of place?
  • Regional writing flourished in the United States during much of the time period covered by these panoramic maps. Both the regional writers and the panoramic mapmakers depicted diverse locales in the United States. Research more about America's regional writers. Who were they? Which regions did they write about?
  • What might have caused this interest in regionalism, manifested both in maps and literature during this period? Can you find other evidence of this interest in regionalism in other items or events from the era?

Historical Context and Literature: Emily Dickinson (1810-1886)

Amherst, Mass. 1886. Burleigh Lith. Establishment.

Amherst, Massachusetts, Lucien R. Burleigh, Mapmaker, 1886.

To the right is a map of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1886, the year of Emily Dickinson's death. If you click on the map and zoom in you will be able to locate a number of sites related to Dickinson's life. See, for example, her home at 280 Main Street, and the house next door of her brother Austin and her sister-in-law and friend Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. See the First Congregational Church that Dickinson attended as a child, the railroad she alludes to in her poetry, and the West Cemetery where she is buried. The contemporary online map, Walking Tour of Amherst!, originally developed through the University of Massachusetts, will help you confirm your sitings of locations related to the life of Emily Dickinson.

  • If you had been a poet in Amherst, where would you have chosen to write? For example, your home, the public library, the university, the woods, or the commons?
  • What were the restraints that woman would have faced in being a writer in the mid-1800s? Why?

A woman who by her thirties had stopped leaving her home, Emily Dickinson found a very wide world within the confines of her small town, her home, and herself. Her writings, in sharp contrast to Mark Twain's, with their rich descriptions and dialects of the external world, depict an inner, metaphysical world through symbolism. Populated by the recurring symbols of bees, flowers, colors, and sunrises, this world takes form in Dickinson's poetry. Explore Dickinson's use of symbolism by creating a map of one of her poems or of her inner world as represented in multiple poems. You may begin with the poems below. What symbols appear in a poem? What symbols appear throughout her poetry? What actions and movement take place in the poem or in her inner world? How can you convey this movement in a map? What are the spacial relations between objects in the poems? Use your imagination and keep in mind that in its broadest sense, a map is just a representation of something and a metaphor for organizing and depicting information and ideas.


Two butterflies went out at noon
And waltzed above a stream,
Then stepped straight through the firmament
And rested on a beam;

And then together bore away
Upon a shining sea
Though never yet, in any port,
Their coming mentioned be.

If spoken by the distant bird,
If met in ether sea
By frigate or by merchantman,
Report was not to me.


This is the land the sunset washes,
These are the banks of the Yellow Sea;
Where it rose, or whither it rushes,
These are the western mystery!

Night after night her purple traffic
Strews the landing with opal bales;
Merchantmen poise upon horizons,
Dip, and vanish with fairy sails.

Literary Landscapes

Whether Mark Twain's colorful telling of life on the Mississippi River or Emily Dickinson's recounting of nature's wonders in Massachusetts, these authors have described the American landscape to evoke a strong sense of place. The online exhibition "Language of the Land: Journey into Literary America," contains literary maps that present pictures of the U.S. literary heritage. The emphasis of these maps is not on geographical detail and accuracy so much as on depicting the history of literature in the United States. For example, one literary map of the United States associates certain authors and titles with different states through the use of words and images. Use examples from this exhibit as well as panoramic maps to create your own literary maps.

Being a Literary Map of the United States Frederic Dornseif, Cartographer G.P. Putnam's Sons,1942

Being a Literary Map of the United States Frederic Dornseif, Cartographer G.P. Putnam's Sons,1942. "Language of the Land: Journey into Literary America."

Chattanooga, Tenn. as seen from Bragg Hill, Missionary Ridge. Copyrighted for J. C. Anderson, trustee.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, Seen from Bragg Hill, 1871.

Portrait of Bessie Smith

Portrait of Bessie Smith,1936, Born in Chattanooga, 1894. Van Vechten Collction

You may create maps that convey the literary history of a particular state, region, or city. Search Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929 for a map of your location. Print and trace the important part of the map and then overlay icons that convey the literary history of the area. Expand the exercise by representing the cultural history of a place, including its writers, musicians, visual artists, and their work. It may be easier to map the cultural history of a more focused location, such as a city. Search American Memory on the name of a city or state to find items that pertain to that location's literary or cultural history. You may choose to represent some of these items on your map.

On the way to Chattanooga I had telegraphed back to Nashville for a good supply of vegetables and small rations, which the troops had been so long deprived of. . . . The men were soon reclothed and also well fed, an abundance of ammunition was brought up, and a cheerfulness prevailed not before enjoyed in many weeks. Neither officers nor men looked upon themselves any longer as doomed. . . . I do not know what the effect was on the other side, but assume it must have been correspondingly depressing.

Chapter 40,
U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs.

  • Try making a panoramic literary map of your home town or city. What would you note on your map? Where are local poetry readings and literary events held? Would you include movie theaters, local recording studios, dance clubs or cyber-cafes?

Imagination and Description

Panoramic maps and literature have a lot in common: each depict a setting at a particular point in time and rely on the reader's imagination to enhance their depiction. Each has additional meaning when used to illustrate the historical moment in which they were created. When used comparatively, they may also help us to see the changes that take place in a particular locale over time.

On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl [Carol Kennicott] stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky. She saw no Indians now; she saw flour mills and the blinking windows of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.

Sinclair Lewis’s highly successful novel Main Street, was published in 1920, about sixty years after Minnesota became a state. Set in the imaginary town of Gopher Prairie, Main Street was roughly based on life in Lewis' hometown of Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

  • Use your imagination to create your own fictitious town. Name your town's streets and decide how many schools, churches, businesses, stores, parks, and factories it will have. Where will these buildings be located and how will the parks be landscaped? Or, erite about your own town: recount the major events that have happened there, the people who have lived there, and the positives and negatives of residing in your town.
  • Choose a novel (or short story) and analyze the influence of its setting on the characters, the story, and the story's resolution. Are you able to find sensory details and dialogue that reveal the influence of a place on the plot?
  • Some people claim that all history is a story told from the victor's point of view. What is Minnesota today was once the territory of the Chippewa and the Sioux. After doing some research, try your hand at writing the story of one tribe's village during the mid-1800s and draw a panoramic map to illustrate your narrative.

Plots and Plans and Travel Writing

The word "plot" derives from the Old English word meaning "a piece of land." Use these panoramic maps as a jumping off point to "plot and plan" a journey across the United States.

Imagine you are taking a journey during the timeframe represented by the collection Panoramic Map, 1847-1929. Use the browse feature of this collection to select two panoramic maps: one of a city from which you will start your journey, and the other of a city that will be your destination. Use these maps, and perhaps others that depict places along the way, to write about a journey. If you are having trouble selecting either a place from which to begin or a destination, just choose one of the two examples below.

[Fort Collins, Colorado. M. D.] Hought[on.

Fort Collins, Colorado, Merritt Dana Houghton, Cartographer, 1865?

San Francisco Bird's-eye view / drawn & lithographed by C.B. Gifford.

San Francisco, California, Charles B. Gifford, Lithographer, 1864.

Davenport, Ia. 1888. H. Wellge, des.

Davenport, Iowa, Henry Wellge, Cartographer, 1888.

Gorham, N.H. 1888. Drawn & published by Geo. E. Norris. The Burleigh Lith. Est.

Gorham, New Hampshire, George Norris, Cartographer, 1888.

  • What is the year of your journey?
  • Why are you making this journey?
  • What route will you take to get to your destination?
  • What form of transportation will you choose? Will you travel by steamer, wagon, or stagecoach? Will you go on foot as did Johnny Appleseed, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, or John Muir?
  • What places will you visit in the towns and countryside along the way? Where will you sleep?
  • Where and what will you eat?
  • How much money will you need to take the journey? Might you barter your work for shelter or food?
  • Who might you expect to meet?
  • What local, national, and international news will you discuss with others along the route? What political and social issues will you discuss?
  • What forms of entertainment might you find? Will you carry a fiddle, harmonica, or another musical instrument with you for entertainment?
  • Would you write letters, keep a diary, send a telegram? What would you write about along the way?
  • Would you read during your journey? What would you read?
  • Where will you live or stay when you reach your destination?
  • What kind of map, or maps, might be useful as you travel?

The Latest News: Journalism and the Diffusion of Information

The diffusion of information is important to the cohesiveness of a culture and a society. How (and how fast) did news travel from place to place between the years 1847 and 1929, the timeframe of the panoramic map collection? Steamboats, railroads, the Pony Express, and the telegraph all played significant roles in disseminating information and, apart from the Pony Express, all are depicted in the panoramic maps. If you look closely at some of the later maps, you will also see telephone wires and motor vehicles. Use panoramic maps to consider the role of these technologies in disseminating information and the growth of popular culture.

Pictured below are two panoramic maps of Sacramento, California -- one just before and one just after the flood of 1850. How long would it have taken for folks in San Francisco, California to have learned about this disastrous flood? How long would it have taken for the news to have reached New York or Washington, D.C.? Business was booming in Sacramento at the close of 1849. Look closely at these maps to see what was left of its "over 800 framed buildings, besides the tents" by mid-January, 1850.

View of Sacramento City as it appeared during the great inundation in January 1850 / drawn from nature by Geo. W. Casilear & Henry Bainbridge ; lith. of Sarony, New York.

Sacramento City, California As It Appeared during the Great Inundation, Drawn from Nature by Geo. W. Casilear & Henry Bainbridge, January 1850.

Pretend that you are a reporter and write a feature story concerning the Sacramento flood for the newspaper of one of the towns represented in the panoramic maps. Use the maps of Sacramento to write a descriptive account of the town in January, 1850 and to provide an assessment of the changes since December, 1849.

  • What details will you include?
  • Who will you interview?
  • What angle will you take? What is the relevance of the flood to the town for which you are writing?
  • How will you get your story to press in 1850?
  • How would you have gotten your story to press if you were a reporter in 1929? What new technologies would have been used for the dissemination of information? How much faster would information have travelled in 1929 as compared to 1850?
  • In 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin and Levi Strauss introduced the "bibless overall" in San Francisco, California. How long was it before copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin were being read in Washington, D.C. or Sacramento, California? How long did it take before the "bibless overall" (also known as "blue jeans" or "jeans") became popular across the nation? Were jeans being worn in Shasta, California by 1856, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory in 1870, South Bend, Indiana in 1890, or Port Jervis, New York by 1920? Can you use American Memory to document any portion of this all-American fashion trend?
  • How might panoramic maps have contributed to the dissemination of popular culture?

Diaries, Oral Histories, and Other Narratives

Bird's eye view of the city of Lafayette, Tippecanoe Co., Indiana 1868. Drawn by A. Ruger.

Lafayette, Indiana, A. Ruger, Mapmaker, 1868.

Panoramic maps may help us to visualize information gleaned from a variety of narratives, including oral history interviews, old family letters, and diaries. Your local library, and possibly your own family archive may contain historical materials that mention towns or cities that are rendered in panoramic maps from this collection. For example, this map of Lafayette, Indiana depicts the town at the same time in which events described in a narrative from American Life Histories, 1936-1940 took place. Zoom into the map and locate sites mentioned in the narrative (or make an educated guess as to where they are).

. . . the graying three-story business building at 209-11 South Street [was] a hospital for rebel prisoners sent to the city . . . during the late winter of 1862. They had been captured in the battle at Fort Donelson which resulted in a major victory for the Union army . . . It was on Sunday, February 23, 1862 that the prisoners arrived, 806 of them . . . Prisoners who died here were buried in Greenbush cemetery . . . in the extreme north-west corner, along Greenbush Street. There are 28 of these stones . . . The special train carrying the prisoners was due to arrive at 5 P.M., but a crowd began gathering about the South Street station as early as two . . . Most of the prisoners were young men, pale, beardless boys, some under seventeen, members of the 32nd and 41st Tennessee regiments. They had served but four and one-half months. Few were in uniforms, most wearing butternut jeans. . . . The Red warehouse, [where?] the prisoners were first taken, was at the foot of Chestnut Street, on the east side of the canal and near the present strawboard plant. . . . Many of the prisoners had severe colds, and 12 or 14 were seriously ill upon their arrival. . . . they had suffered twenty days of unparalleled exposure and hardships before and after their capture. . . . This condition [suggested?] immediate steps to provide hospitalization. A number of women . . . rented the "large and commodious room" known as Walsh's hall, now at 209.11 South Street, for a hospital. The room quickly was fitted with beds. The executive committee of women handling this matter was made up of Mrs. Lewis Falley, Miss Fields Stockwell, and Mrs. Dr. O.L. Clark. . .

Forgotten Chapter in Lafayette's Civil War
Lafayette, Indiana,
American Life Histories, 1936-1940.

  • Does your family have written materials handed down by past generations? If so, you might check the panoramic map collection to see if there are maps of sites referred to in these documents.
  • Read an historical novel and search the panoramic map collection to see if you can locate buildings that are referred to in the story. To what extent did the writer invent the locale of the story? To what extent did the author use historical facts to depict the town?
  • Imagine that you are a Civil War soldier, a riverboatman, or a traveling performer. Write a postcard home to your family telling about your experiences: someone you have met, an object you have seen, or a story you have heard. Be creative!
  • Search the collections, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900, or Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910, for materials with which to investigate a panoramic map.