Map Publishing Firms
Perhaps 30 percent of the commercially produced railroad maps were published by the New York City publishing house established by Joseph Hutchins Colton in 1831. This firm was known the world over for the quality, quantity, and variety of its publications, including maps, atlases, and school geographies. Henry Varnum Poor, in the introduction to his History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States of America, commends the series of Colton's railroad maps which illustrate his work. "All the maps," Poor wrote, "are drawn and engraved under the supervision of G. Woolworth Colton, Esq., whose diligence, accuracy and extensive information are sufficient guarantee for their correctness."
Indeed, Colton's maps from the early 1850s to the last decade of the century, most of which were subtitled "Colton's Railroad and Township Map," surpassed in quality and quantity other maps published in the nineteenth century. Other reputable map publishing firms of the period include Asher & Adams of New York, James T. Lloyd and Company of New York and London, Matthews-Northrup and Company and J. Sage and Sons of Buffalo, Gaylord Watson of New York and Chicago, and later in the century, the Chicago firms of Rand McNally, Poole Brothers, and George F. Cram. The Poole and Cram firms originally stemmed from the Rand McNally Company.
Following the consolidation and rapid growth of North American railroads after the financial panic of 1873, many commercial maps were produced to show the spreading network. One company signaled its emergence into this field by announcing in January 1873 that "the house of Rand, McNally & Co., beg leave to inform their railroad friends, and the patrons of the [Railway] Guide generally, that they have lately made extensive additions to their engraving department, and are now prepared to execute Map and all kinds of Relief Plate Engraving [i.e., wax engraving] in the very highest style of the art." Rand McNally's output in the late nineteenth century rivaled the volume of maps, guides, illustrated timetables, and atlases produced by Colton.
In 1858 William H. Rand, a native of Boston, established a printing office in Chicago and employed as a printer Andrew McNally. By 1868 Rand and McNally formed a partnership which soon acquired a reputation for printing railroad publications. In 1871 they introduced the Rand McNally Railway Guide. Less than a year after their business was destroyed in the 1871 Chicago Fire, the company's first two maps appeared in the December 1872 issue of the Guide. In response to the need by the railroads for maps, in timetables and other publications, Rand and McNally opened a map department in late 1872. With the adoption of the wax engraving process, followed in May 1873 by the employment of a color printing process, the company's reputation as one of the world's leading commercial mapmaker was established.
A major accomplishment of Rand McNally was the publication in 1876 of the "New Railroad and County Map of the United States and Canada. Compiled from Latest Government Surveys, and Drawn to an Accurate Scale." That same year, the company used the plates from this map to produce its famous Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide, which was issued in its 129th edition in 1998. The map and the Business Atlas, as it was then known, required the services of ten compilers and engravers for nearly two years and cost about $20,000. Today the atlas continues to be an indispensable reference tool for the business world and the librarian, for it contains the most complete index to place names in the United States, as well as useful railroad information. There is a complete list of railroads in the United States, mileage and distance tables, freight and passenger service information, and a summary of the current status of major mergers. A map of the principal railroad network is also included, along with the state maps that show and list the railroads serving each state.
Between 1882 and 1891 Rand McNally produced "elephant-size" maps at the scale of 1:506,880 or 1 inch to 8 miles, in twelve panels which formed a map more than 10 x 15 feet in size. The several editions of the map, which depicts the country from the East Coast to the 105th meridian of longitude, are entitled "Rand McNally & Co's New Railroad Junction Point and County Map of the Eastern & Middle States Prepared from Latest Government Surveys, and Verified by the Working Time Tables of the Various Railroads. Drawn, Engraved, Printed, Colored by Hand and Published by Rand, McNally & Co., Chicago." It shows county boundaries, all railroad junctions, and all railroads. This is probably the map which George H. Heafford stated was "frequently posted on the out-houses, dead-walls and fences of our large cities."