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

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.