While it has always been difficult to disentangle the mapping of New York State from developments on the national and international levels, that has especially been true since the conclusion of the First World War. Even more than in the preceding centuries, cartography in New York has largely been a regional expression of national developments. At the same time, cartography has been dramatically affected by the application of new technologies—especially aerial photography, satellite imaging, global positioning systems (GPS), and the use of computers, especially in the form of geographic information systems (GIS).
Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing
Aerial photography was most important technical development affecting mapping in the first half of the twentieth century. It was important not only for its own sake, but because it facilitated the production of topographic and other types of maps.
The earliest experiments with aerial photography date back almost as far as photography itself. The first aerial photographs are thought to have been made from a balloon in France by Felix Tournachon (“Nadar”) in 1858. The earliest aerial photographs made in the United States were taken over Boston in 1860 by James Wallace Black. In the following decades, especially during the Civil War, experiments were made with aerial photography using balloons and kites, but the practice was not widespread, even in the first few years after the invention of the airplane.
Only during the First World War, did aerial photography become an important tool for map makers. The war vastly accelerated the development of both airplanes and of aerial photography, which was heavily used for reconnaissance purposes.
Immediately after the war, aerial photography started to be applied for civilian purposes. A leading figure in post-war developments was Sherman M. Fairchild (1896-1971) of Oneonta, New York, who invented the Fairchild aerial camera. In 1921, the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation made an aerial mosaic of Manhattan from a series of 100 overlapping aerial photographs (Figure 14.1). In 1924, they went on to produce a photomosaic of all five boroughs of New York City. This marked the beginning of systematic high altitude aerial photography in the United States. Aerial photography has a place somewhere in the large and obscure border region of the territory of maps. An aerial photograph is not itself usually considered to be a map (the phrase “cartographic material” was developed in part to accommodate such “map like” things). But the idea of depicting a landscape from above preceded the use of aerial photography, as was seen in our discussion of bird’s-eye views.
As was noted in the discussion of bird’s-eye views, perspective drawings of towns can be either oblique or nearly vertical. The oblique views, which resemble drawings made from the top of a hill, are akin to traditional landscape paintings. The views taken from a nearly vertical perspective, which reveal such things as street patterns, more closely resemble street maps.
The same distinction can be made with aerial photographs. Low altitude aerial photos provide detailed views of small areas, often from an oblique perspective, and can be very useful for students of architecture and others. Aerial photographs taken vertically from an altitude of over 5,000 feet are much more “map like.” In fact, they are often used to correct or construct maps, and modern computer applications frequently overlay information from maps on top of such aerial photographs to produce composite images. For these reasons, the type of high altitude aerial photographs pioneered by Fairchild Aerial Surveys is of particular importance for the history of cartography. After completing its mosaic of Manhattan, this corporation began the aerial mapping of wide swaths of New York Statestarting in 1923 with an aerial survey of the New York Metropolitan area.
High-altitude aerial photographs are usually “georectified” to give them a uniform scale, to make it possible to mosaic them together, and to overlay them with maps. Raw aerial photographs coming out of a camera typically vary in scale owing to such things as camera tilt, photographs of neighboring areas being taken at slightly different altitudes, lens distortion, and differences in perspective between the center and the edges of a photograph. A good deal of processing by skilled technicians is required to georectify aerial photographs. It is naive to think that aerial photographs mirror nature in the raw. Like conventional maps, they are highly manipulated representations of geographic “reality.”
The similarities and differences between a conventional map and a high-altitude aerial photograph should be noted. Aerial photographs frequently show things that do not appear on conventional maps. These include vegetation patterns; some cultural features, often including dirt roads and individual buildings; and features, such as the patterns of old fields, that are not readily visible from the surface of the earth. Some of the more exotic forms of modern aerial photographs, such as color photographs recording infrared wavelengths, show things like the differential growth of vegetation, which no one dreamed of mapping prior to the advent of aerial photography. On the other hand, certain types of information that routinely appear on maps, such as town names or political and administrative boundaries, are not revealed by aerial photography
These characteristics make aerial photographs of great interest to a variety of people, including farmers, environmental analysts, archaeologists, and historians. A whole new discipline, photogrammetry, has developed around the interpretation of aerial photographs and other remotely sensed images. Aerial photos are also used in the updating and construction of topographic maps, and are the basis of modern soil maps. Many modern computer applications allow aerial photographs to be overlayed with conventional maps, permitting users to take advantage of the different types of information contained in both formats.The USGS produces one type of map, known as the “orthophotoquad,” which is based almost entirely on georectified aerial photographs, with some supplementary information added. As we will see, since 2009 orthophotoquads have been the backbone of the nation’s 7.5 minute mapping program.
In New York State, high altitude aerial photography made fairly rapid progress in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1937, approximately 17,000 square miles of the state had been photographed at a variety of scales—mostly by county and other government agencies. Starting in 1938, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture began a program that led to photographing Suffolk County and most of western New York at a scale of 1:20,000. These detailed black-and-white aerial photographs, which are available from the National Archives, are heavily used by researchers. They are relatively easy to obtain, and go far enough back in time to reveal details about landscapes that have have undergone drastic changes because of suburbanization or for other reasons.
Almost all aerial photography prior to 1950 consisted of black and white images. Color photography became widely used in the following decades, and with it techniques such as multi-spectral imaging, which make possible the production of a wide range of images of things that cannot be seen by the naked eye. The most commonly encountered type of multispectral imaging is near-infrared color photography, which shows rapidly growing vegetation as bright red. Figure 14.2 shows a detail of a high altitude aerial photograph of Saratoga Springs in which well-fertilized golf courses and race tracks stand out in vivid red In recent years, both New York State and its county governments have been active in producing high resolution aerial photographs in both black-and-white and in color. Some of this material is available to the general public on the Internet. Most high-altitude photographs taken of the state between 1968 and 1991 are listed in a publication called Inventory of Aerial Photography and Other Remotely Sensed Imagery of New York State.
Since about 1960 , aerial photography has been supplemented by new kinds of “remotely sensed imagery.” Remote sensing is a somewhat ambiguous term, which includes conventional aerial photography, but usually is applied to more exotic forms of image capture, including infra-red aerial photography, satellite imaging, and such recently developed types of imaging as radar and LIDAR (a form of mapping that uses light from lasers). These new technologies are responsible for many striking images of the earth’s surface, including crop and forestry assessments in the Hudson Highlands, and images of pollution in Long Island Sound. A wide range of remotely sensed images can be found at Web sites maintained by NASA and the USGS Most remotely sense images are digital raster images consisting of pixels, rather than conventional aerial photographs taken on film. As will be seen, these digital images are much like the raster images used in GIS systems, and can be readily incorporated into computer projects. Even conventional aerial photographs are now mostly taken with digital cameras, and older aerial photographs can easily be scanned for manipulation and viewing by computers. Having photographs in digital form greatly facilitates the process of georectification, and the production of conventional maps from photographic images. Many hybrid products are now available on the Web, such as aerial photographs draped over vector digital elevation models to show relief Aeronautical Charts
Before leaving the subject of maps and airplanes, something should be said about the development of aeronautical charts. Modern aeronautical charts are mostly produced by the federal government, and typically cover large multi-state areas, except when they focus on the approaches to individual airports. With the use of electronic navigation systems, aeronautical charts on paper play a secondary role in airplane navigation.
But in the first thirty or forty years after the invention of the airplane, the situation was quite different. The slow speeds and limited range of early aircraft, combined with the fact that navigation was almost entirely by sight, meant that paper navigation charts of relatively small areas were extremely important. Pilots often made very short flights by modern standards, and used landmarks such as roads and railroads for navigation. Prior to the Second World War, and even beyond, there was an appreciable output of various types of aeronautical charts restricted to New York State and areas within the state.
Downstate New York, particularly western Long Island, was a focus of early aviation development. According to Ralph Ehrenberg, in 1911 “The first map designed specifically for air navigation in the United States was issued in the form of a photograph of a molded plaster of paris [sic] raised relief model of the western half of Long Island.”  Mitchel Field, which was the site of Charles Lindbergh’s departure on his famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean, was a major focus of early aviation activities, and is now the site of the “Cradle of Aviation Museum Federal and State Mapping Activities, 1920-1970
Between 1920 and 1970, most of the government mapping in New York State was conducted by the federal government. The state government continued to play an auxiliary role, which was mostly confined to sharing costs and helping to set priorities. In 1926, the office of the State Engineer and Surveyor was abolished, and its functions transferred to the Department of Public Works, but this changed little in the way the state conducted its mapping programs.
The most notable mapping accomplishment in New York during the 1920s was the completion of the program to map the state in 15 minute quadrangles at a scale of 1:62,500. Even before this project was finished, it was widely recognized that these maps would have to be revised. Many of them were produced between 1893 and 1907, and the cultural information on most of them was outdated. Also, as previously noted, many were produced in considerable haste, and by the 1920s the USGS had come to regard them as insufficiently accurate by the standards of the time.
The 1920s and the 1930s saw the gradual development of more rigorous topographic mapping standards by the USGS and other government agencies. The standards of geodetic control were improved by the adoption of the North American Datum of 1927 for the measurement of latitudes and longitudes, and in 1929 by the adoption of the National Geodetic Datum for Vertical Control for the measurements of heights. Accuracy of local surveys was improved by the development of the New York State Plane Projection system by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey in the 1930s. Cartographic precision was further facilitated by the use of aerial photographs and photogrammetry. Formal accuracy standards were finally adopted by the USGS in 1941.
In 1938, the New York State Division of State Planning bestirred itself to take a comprehensive look at mapping activities in the state. An advisory committee made up primarily of civil engineers undertook to review and make recommendations on developments under the following headings: topographic maps, air mapping, soil mapping and soil surveys, geologic mapping, and “vegetational” [sic] mapping. Predictably, the committee proposed an ambitious expansion of activities in all of these areas. They could hardly have picked a worse time to make such recommendations: with the nation in the midst of the Great Depression and about to enter the Second World War, an expensive new mapping program was unlikely to be funded. Most of the committee’s recommendations were eventually implemented, but only in the decades following the war.
The most interesting section of this report deals with the cooperative federal-state topographic mapping program. The committee noted that the state had been completely mapped at a scale of 1:62,500 (the fifteen minute maps), which was the original goal of the cooperative program. However, they added, “a detailed analysis of the quadrangle sheets by the United States Geological Survey indicates that an area of but 3,400 square miles, covering 16 sheets and parts of 12 others can be considered adequately mapped according to present day standards.” Expanding on this, they remarked:
The levels for many quadrangles are inadequate, while others lack spirit level control entirely. Those conditions render 183 quadrangle sheets or parts thereof unreliable for many purposes. All of the area, 31,495 square miles, was mapped 30 or more years ago. In other instances, although the control surveys are adequate, cultural details, such as roads, buildings, railroads, bridges, cities and political boundary lines are in need of revision. Seventy-three quadrangles or parts thereof, covering an area of 14,128 square miles, are in this category. Approximately 62 per cent of this area was mapped prior to 1918.
To remedy this situation, the committee (following the recommendations of the USGS) recommended remapping the state, with 46 sheets “of certain areas” at a scale twice as detailed as the existing 15 minute maps. These sheets, mostly of urban areas, were to be 7.5 minutes on a side, and at a scale of 1:31,000. Most of the remaining 15 minute maps were to be remapped or revised at the 15’ scale. The entire program was to cost $2,300,000 over a twenty year period, with the cost to be shared by the federal and state governments.
Something approximating this program was put into effect in the years between 1940 and 1985. The process by which this came about was somewhat convoluted, and involved a good deal of partially secret collaboration between military, intelligence, and civilian mapping agencies.
During the Second World War, most civilian mapping activities were suspended, or were consolidated into those of the Army Map Service (AMS). The AMS produced for defense purposes a fairly large number of 7.5 minute maps of New York. According to Morris Thompson, the mapping of upstate New York was actually the first project undertaken by the AMS in 1940, after it took over his USGS unit, which previously had been engaged in mapping for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). This occurred after the fall of France and before Pearl Harbor, at which time the army was reportedly concerned about a possible Nazi invasion of the East Coast through Canada and poorly mapped upstate New York. Most of these AMS maps were at a scale of 1:31,680, although a few were produced at the now-standard scale of 1:24,000. These military 7.5 minute maps appear to be the first topographic maps of the state in which contour lines were derived from aerial photographs (using “photogrammetry”), rather than by the older and more laborious procedure of “spirit leveling.” During the war, the AMS also initiated mapping the nation at an intermediate scale of 1:250,000—a series that was later continued by the USGS.
The USGS resumed its mapping activities after 1945, with some of its output being based on aerial photography and other work done by the AMS during and after the war. The maps produced by the USGS in the late 1940s and 1950s included a large number of 15 minute quadrangles. Some were reprint editions of maps made around 1900, but others were based on recent aerial photography.
Shortly after 1945, The USGS also published a number of 7.5 minute maps at a scale of 1:31,680, each of which covered about one-fourth of the area of an old 15 minute map. The sheets of the 1:31,6800 maps and the 1:62:500 maps are the same size, which makes it easy to confuse maps in the two series if you don’t check the scale. The 7.5 minute maps at a scale of about 1:24,000 are printed on larger sheets than the old series, and are easy to distinguish from the 15 minute series. About 1950, the 1:31:460 series was abandoned, and all USGS 7.5 minute maps have since been published on larger sheets at a scale of 1:24,000. A nearly complete listing of the printed editions of 7.5 and 15 minute quadrangle maps has recently been made available by the USGS through its Historical Map Collection portal, along with downloadable digital images of the maps.
Like the revised 15 minute maps, the early post-war 7.5 minute maps were based on aerial photography done between 1940 and the late 1950s. Output was increased during the 1950s in part through the use of increasingly sophisticated photogrammetric techniques, many of which were originally developed for military or intelligence purposes. Starting around 1960, the USGS accelerated its efforts to complete its mapping of all of the United States (except Alaska) at the 7.5 minute scalea project that was completed with about 55,000 sheets in 1991. Some of the work around the 1960s involved the use of images obtained from the then top-secret CORONA. satellites. The use of this secret information is hinted at in the legends on some of these maps, which state that they were compiled using “aerial photography and other source data.” Other military satellite images and technology were undoubtedly used by the USGS throughout the postwar period, although the exact extent of this is unknown, and some of the relevant information is probably still classified.
The 1:24,000 scale 7.5 minute maps are the standard base maps for much of the recent mapping of New York, including digital mapping. It is important for users of these materials to pay attention to when and how individual sheets were produced. They were sometimes published in several editions, but much of the information on them may have been gathered long before the publication date on the map. Thus, the contour lines on some 7.5 minute maps published as late as the 1980s were still based on aerial photographs taken in the 1940s, although buildings and other cultural features were sometimes updated (often by means of overprinting in purple ink, as in Figure 14.4). In rural areas it is not unusual to find a map printed in 1984, bearing the date 1957, but based on an aerial photograph taken in 1948 (as is the case with the Afton, NY quadrangle). This sometimes makes it difficult to ascertain the exact date of individual features. Let the user beware! As recently as 1990, paper (analog) maps continued to be the main product of the USGS. New York State (along with the rest of the lower 48 states) was covered by USGS maps at scales of 1:1,000,000, 1:500,000, 1:250,000, 1:100,000, and 1:24,000. Starting around 1970, computer-produced digital maps became increasingly important at the USGS, and the current generation of USGS topographic maps is dramatically different from its analog predecessors. The shift from paper to digital maps at the USGS will be outlined below in the section of this chapter on computer mapping.
More specialized map series covering parts of New York were and are produced by other federal agencies. These include nautical charts published by NOAA, soil maps published by the National Soil Service, thematic maps from the Census Bureau, and geological maps published by the USGS. Information about maps available from the federal government can be obtained from the government information portal New York State relied primarily on the USGS and other federal agencies for most of its maps until the late 1960s. The most dramatic change in state activities occurred in 1967, when responsibility for the state’s mapping program was transferred from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Transportation. By this time, the state had entered the Rockefeller era, and large-scale planning and projects by state agencies were the order of the day.
The Cartography Section of the Department of Transportation undertook an ambitious program to expand and update the output of maps of the state. Their plans were summarized in 1968 in a revealing document prepared by Leslie A. Maercklein entitled The Development of a Statewide Mapping Program and Projection-Grid System. The primary reason for the revival of mapping by the state is clearly revealed in this publication. Basically, it was the accumulation of massive amounts of information in computerized form by agencies involved in state and regional planning. Much of this information involved such mundane matters as traffic flow on highways, the location of fire hydrants, the availability of emergency services, and the location of power lines and water pipes. It had come to be realized that most of this information has a geographic component, and that it was often difficult to use unless it was accurately mapped.
This realization lies behind much of the development of modern Geographic Information Systems (GIS), but the use of full-fledged GIS was still some years in the future. In the late 1960s, the problem was more how to get this data into a form in which it could be easily identified, manipulated, and (potentially) mapped by computers. The solution to this problem was what is now called geocoding—assigning to pieces of information (such as individual fire hydrants) precise latitude-longitude coordinates so that they can be located on a map, or placed on a computer-created map. In Maerklin’s words: “It was the need for an accurate up-to-date statewide map series which could be married to a computer-based information system which led the New York State Department of Transportation to develop a comprehensive mapping program based on a mathematically related projection-grid system.”
This process of geocoding required bigger changes in the state’s mapping system than one might imagine. The best maps available for most places were the 7.5 minute USGS quadrangles. But, as of 1965, they covered only about 80 per cent of the state, and they were not revised quickly enough to include many major changes in cultural information. On top of this, there were small differences in the projection system used in different USGS quads. Prior to 1956, they were all based on a polyconic projection. In that year, the USGS adopted a more precise, but more complex, system, which divided the state up into regions. The new State Coordinate System mapped Long Island using the Lambert Conformal projection, while the rest of the state was divided into three parts and mapped using a transverse Mercator projection with different central meridians for each of the three parts. While this system improved the geodetic accuracy of individual quadrangles, it made it impossible to assemble them into a single map of the state with a uniform projection. For this reason, the state decided to use a different projection—a version of the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system, based on extending zone 18 of that system across the state. In this way, every quadrangle could be mapped to a single statewide grid.
All of this is fairly technical, and does not affect the everyday map user, although this information is important for those involved in making maps, and it does explain why several projections are found on different 7.5 minute quadrangle maps.
Once these preliminaries were out of the way, the Dept. of Transportation undertook quite an active mapping program. An early production was a 7.5 minute series of so-called “planimetric maps,” which are based on USGS topographic maps, but do not include contour lines. This series began in 1966. It focused on cultural features, such as roads and houses. The main reason for this series was that it could be updated more frequently than the USGS maps. For urban areas, these 1:24,000 scale maps were blown up to 1:9,600 scale and street names were added. Starting in 1972, the 1:24,000 scale planimetric maps were supplemented by a “topographic edition,” which combined the information from the planimetric maps with contour lines from USGS quads. The Dept. of Transportation also produced several smaller scale products, including: a state atlas (first published in 1980), a four-sheet state map at a scale of 1:250,000 (starting in 1970), and county base maps at scales of 1:62,500 and 1:125,000.
During the years following the Second World War, state and local agencies produced many other maps. These include detailed maps for use mainly by government agencies in such matters as road construction and forestry management. The more generalized maps for public consumption include a railroad map of the state, and the well-known “I love New York” tourism map. The state tourism map closely resembles oil company road maps, and will be discussed below along with other road maps.
Commercial cartography between 1920 and 1980 developed mostly along lines that had been laid down prior to the First World War. A wide range of maps were published in the twentieth century, including city maps and regional maps. Constraints of space and time make it impossible to give even an overview of most of these productions, which do not differ in major ways from earlier maps of the same kinds. Instead we will focus on property maps, road maps, and atlases, where new developments can be seen.
Following 1920, the production of property maps, which had flourished between 1850 and 1910, dropped sharply. There are a number of reasons for this decline, which was part of a national trend. Even before 1900, elaborate property atlases, such as those published by the Beers family, had lost much of their appeal. They seem to have gone out of fashion as novelty items, and they became harder to produce as the population of rural areas increased. The property atlases produced after 1900 tend to be simple and utilitarian. Some of them increasingly came to resemble modern road atlases, while others catered to real estate agents and insurance companies.
These developments are illustrated by atlases of the New York City area published by the E. Belcher Hyde Company, by Dolph & Stewart, and by the Hagstrom Map Company. The Manhattan-based E. Belcher Hyde Company seems to have first entered the world of property atlas publication in 1877 with a detailed real estate atlas of Passaic County, New Jersey, which came complete with illustrations of buildings and other adornments. Its next major publication appeared more than twenty years later (in 1898-1899), and was a three-volume atlas of Brooklyn, which took the form of a fairly typical fire insurance atlas. About this time the company moved some of its operations to Brooklyn, and there followed in quick succession atlases of the Bronx , of Westchester County , of the Borough of Queens , of Suffolk County , Nassau County , and of Manhattan. The Hyde atlases of rural areas closely resemble the earlier Beers property atlases; those of New York City were essentially fire insurance and real estate atlases. The Hyde Company did not expand its range of publication significantly after 1910, but it continued to publish new editions and to make frequent revisions of its works, especially those of New York City, through the 1920s. Although the company is still listed as maintaining offices in Manhattan, its last atlas was published in 1929. Like many atlas companies nationwide, it was a victim of the Great Depression.
A different course was followed by the Dolph and Stewart Company, which lacked the nineteenth-century roots of the E. Belcher Hyde Company. Another firm based in New York City, its earliest production appears to be a detailed road map of Westchester County, published in 1926. In the late 1920s, the firm published a variety of maps and atlases—mostly of downstate New York, and of nearby Connecticut and New Jersey. Many of its publications, such as an atlas of Suffolk County published in 1929, showed property owners and estate boundaries, and could be described as a stripped-down and simplified property atlases. With its relatively simple and inexpensive county property maps, this company successfully weathered the Depression. Starting in the late 1930s, it began publishing maps of Florida, although it remained based in New York City until at least the middle of the 1950s. There still exists a very active Dolph Map Company, now based in Fort Lauderdale, which specializes in publishing maps and county road atlases of Florida and nearby states. It appears that the founder of this company moved to Florida, and passed on his business to a new generation, which has established itself in that state.
The Hagstrom Map Company presents a similar picture, although its story does not conclude in Florida. The earliest publication of the Hagstrom Company appears to be Hagstrom’s Map of Lower New York City (1919). The company quickly developed in the 1920s into a diversified map and atlas publisher specializing in the New York City area. Hagstrom continued to publish through the 1930s, and is today the leading publisher of street maps and atlases of downstate New York. It is worth noting that from the late 1930s to about 1950 the company experimented with showing property owners and boundaries on several of its large-format sheet maps and atlases, including some of the early editions of the well-known Hagstrom Atlases. Both the Dolph and the Hagstrom companies had the advantage of not being too specialized in one line of production. Since about 1950, most commercial New York State map publishers have, like Hagstrom, focused on producing regional road maps and atlases.
By 1920, the production of fire insurance atlases was largely in the hands of the Sanborn Map Company, although a few competitors (including the Hyde Company and the G.W. Bromley Company) continued to update their atlases of New York City and some other locations as late as 1940. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the Sanborn Company produced large numbers of maps of even small cities and large towns through the 1920s. It, too, saw its business dwindle after 1930, and it never really recovered from the Depression, although it continues to update some of its maps in digital form. The Sanborn Company, now a part of DMG Information group of companies, continues to be active in the mapping field, and has diversified its product line and moved into GIS. Sanborn fire insurance maps from the first part of the twentieth century are available from the sources discussed in the previous chapter.
In the last fifty years, property maps have largely been replaced by other products. The users of fire insurance maps rely primarily on computerized data files in non-cartographic form, although fire insurance maps seem to be making a modest comeback in the form of GIS files. Most of the information that used to be included in property maps and atlases is now contained in real estate tax maps. These are usually produced by county governments, and are available in government offices and some libraries. They are frequently available for purchase either as paper atlases or online.
The most conspicuous type of map for much of the twentieth century, In New York as elsewhere in the United States, was the familiar oil company road map. As we have seen, road maps had an interesting history prior to 1920, but they did not become standardized and ubiquitous until after that date. Basically, the development of road maps depended on the widespread use of automobiles and the paving of roads, which mostly occurred after the First World War. The first law to allocate Federal funds to road construction was the Good Roads Act, passed in 1916. According to road map expert James Akerman, “only one in every 196 Americans owned a registered motor vehicle in 1910; by 1920 there was a car for every 11 Americans; by 1930, one car for every four Americans.” These numbers do much to explain why by the late 1920s, the nation was inundated by (mostly) free road maps.
The output of road maps between 1930 and 1970 was astonishing. W.W. Ristow has estimated that in 1964 alone, about 200,000,000 of them were distributed, and that nearly five billion had been printed since 1914. Most were produced for oil companies by the “big three” map publishers: General Drafting Company , H.M. Gousha, and Rand McNally. Similar maps were published for the producers of other automotive products (such as tires), by organizations like the American Automobile Association, and by state agencies concerned with tourism.
Road maps have elicited a good deal of attention from cultural historians and geographers. Because they were so widely distributed, two generations of Americans acquired their basic understanding of what a map is through the experience of reading and using road maps. Of course, this understanding was limited because, like all maps, road maps are selective sources of information.
Most oil company road maps are remarkably similar in their basic features. They are usually attractive and well designed. Predictably, they emphasize roads, towns, and tourist attractions. The roads are colored, and graded by type, with the major routes heavily emphasized. Since road maps were often used to drive from one town to another, all but the smallest cities and towns are usually shown on them. They usually include a table of distances between major towns, and an alphabetical index of towns keyed to their location on a grid. They often have inset maps of major cities. Parks and other tourist attractions are also heavily emphasized. Parks are frequently highlighted in green, and road maps are likely to contain special tables of tourist attractions.
Some things are suppressed or left off of these maps. Railroads are conspicuously absent from most of them, since it was obviously not in the best interest of oil and automobile companies to encourage the use of their leading competitor. Other omissions are less obvious, but mark a definite change from nineteenth-century general purpose maps. County boundaries are not shown at all on many road maps. At best, they are indicated by faint lines. Prior to 1920, counties were frequently colored in and very conspicuous on general purpose maps. Possibly this change reflects the lessened role of county government in a more mobile age. There is also minimal topography on oil company road maps, presumably because the drivers of powerful modern cars traveling on paved roads do not need to worry as much as their predecessors about climbing mountains or getting stuck in mud. These maps are efficiently designed for their purposes: enabling drivers to navigate roads, motivating them to travel and visit tourist attractions, and encouraging them to use the friendly and efficient services of the oil companies that distributed the maps.
The publishers of road maps were not subtle in pursuing their purposes, which sometimes helps give them a kind of hokey and nostalgic charm, and makes them popular items for collectors of Americana. Their covers invite drivers to “travel the route of friendly service” (with Standard Oil of New York) or “travel in the best circles” (with Tydol Gasoline). Along with advertisements, they are heavily laden with graphics, including scenic landscapes and hackneyed pictures of historic attractions. Their covers often boast images of happy and stylish motorists (invariably white and prosperous looking), who are served by smiling filing station attendants (invariably white and wearing a natty uniform).
Between 1920 and 1975, competing oil companies published dozens of maps of New York. Oil company maps of individual cities and regions within the state are rare, although state road maps almost always included insets showing the New York metropolitan region and other major cities. For some reason, Long Island seems to be the only area in New York that was separately mapped on several occasions by oil companies. I happen to have on hand a 1937 Standard Oil of New York map of Long Island, which is a favorite of mine because of its amiable crassness.
The Standard Oil map of Long Island is relatively small (48 x 66 cm.), but includes three separate maps and considerable text on both sides of the sheet. New York City and the western half of Long Island are shown on one side of the map. The other side includes a map of eastern Long Island, and a pictorial map of the entire island entitled “118 miles of Recreation and Romance.” The map is unusual in showing the route of the Long Island Railroad and its individual stations. Not surprisingly, the line depicting the route of the railroad is fainter than the line indicating the least important roads, and no mention of the railroad is made in the legend of the map.
The map’s legend (“Motoring on Long Island you will find”) appears on both sides of the map, and is remarkable for what it includes and what it excludes. Like almost all road maps from this period, it differentiates between several types of roads—in this case: “Parkways,” “First Class Roads (Paved),” “Second Class Roads (Mostly Oiled Gravel),” and “Third Class Roads.” It also tells us that “broken lines indicate roads likely to be under construction,” and it gives the symbols used to differentiate between towns by approximate population. The most unusual thing about the legend is that it singles out very conspicuously the symbols for golf courses, yacht clubs, public bathing beaches, and flying fields.
The legend was mostly superfluous for map readers, but it sets a tone for interpreting the map. Probably very few users were interested in golf courses, yacht clubs, and flying fields, but the emphasis on these things shows that Long Island was to be thought of as a place of recreation for the sophisticated and well-healed. Sidebars even include alphabetical lists of the golf courses and yacht clubs on the island. Some of the other sidebars are more conventional, including an index of towns, a mileage chart, and a list of state parks. More unusual is a sidebar containing “hints for anglers,” and a listing of ferries on Long Island Sound. The inclusion of information about ferries is less surprising than the appearance of railroads, since ferries served to transport motorists to and from Long Island.
For connoisseurs of carto-kitsch, the highlight of this work is the pictorial map, “118 miles of Recreation and Romance” (Figure 14.4) This small map packs in an amazing collection of illustrations of Long Island tourist attractions—most, but not all of which, remain popular today. They include, to name a few: pictures of a man playing golf at Bethpage State Park, the Whaling Museum at Sag Harbor, a man catching flounder off Long Island’s North Shore, people is swimsuits liberally strewn along the shoreline, polo players at the International Polo Field, a chimpanzee and a snake at a place called “Jungle Camp” near Farmingdale, Montauk Lighthouse, whales, potatoes, Long Island ducklings, cranberry harvesters, and the State Fish Hatchery near Huntington. In addition to these “highlights,” the accompanying text assures us that: “With a little leisure time and a tankful of Mobilgas you can easily discover many other interesting places to go and things to do in this fascinating corner of New York State.”Oil companies ceased to hand out this bonanza of free maps during 1970s. Their demise is attributed to changing economics, particularly the energy crisis in the first part of that decade. The void has been partially filled by commercially published maps that can be purchased in filling stations. In addition, the American Automobile Association continues to provide free road maps to its members, and road maps are available without charge from the tourist bureaus of many state governments.
New York State started to publish its own free road maps in late 1970s—a time coinciding with end of free oil company maps and the launching of the highly successful “I love New York” tourism campaign. These maps closely resemble the older oil company maps, although there are some interesting differences, which have grown more pronounced over the years.
The earlier editions of the I Love New York Tourism Map (1977- 1985) were published for the Tourism Division of the New York State Department of Commerce by Rand McNally. They closely resemble oil company maps of New York that Rand McNally had published a few years earlier. From both the practical and the aesthetic points of view, they are well designed, reflecting the company’s extensive experience in producing this type of map. Here is a description based on the 1984 edition of the “I Love New York” map (Figure 14.5). One side of the map is mostly taken up with a large map of the state. To use space efficiently and increase the scale of the map, Long Island and the New York Metropolitan area are presented at a larger scale and tucked under western New York. This type of graphic presentation is quite common on maps of New York State, and can be traced back to the early nineteenth century. Because of its awkward shape—with the “thumb” of Long Island and western New York jutting out in opposite directions—it is otherwise impossible to depict New York State on a rectangular sheet of paper without including the space occupied by most of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, along with large parts of southern Ontario and Pennsylvania.
In typical oil company fashion, roads are conspicuously presented in bright colors against a white background. The New York State Thruway is highlighted in gold-orange; other major roads are colored red or green. Towns and cities are identified, and the map is accompanied by a detailed index of populated places. The Catskill and Adirondack parks stand out in light green. Much other information is suppressed. Railroads are not shown at all. Although lakes and rivers appear, mountains are not depicted in relief. The names and boundaries of counties appear in an inconspicuous pale blue, which is also used for the names of rivers and lakes.
A great deal of supplementary material accompanies this map. Since the main purpose of the “I Love New York” map is to attract tourists, rather than to sell gasoline, this material differs somewhat from what you would find on a traditional oil company map. As on oil company maps, there is an index of cities in towns on the “I Love New York” map, along with inset maps of major cities and urban areas, a rather awkwardly constructed distance chart, and a legend. Since both types of maps are designed to lure travelers out onto the road, extensive tourist information appears on the state road map, as well as on oil company maps. Of course, advertisements for oil companies are omitted on the state map, although the state government itself, along with its agencies and services, are rather subtly advertised. This change can be seen in various differences in layout and presentation.
The 1984 “I Love New York” map is attractively packaged with scenic photographs on the covers it presents when folded. The back cover is a photograph of a smiling teen-aged boy peering out from behind a waterfall. The front cover shows a rather ordinary young woman in blue jeans and a red shirt fishing alone at a beautiful lake. These rather understated photographs, which are both attractive and reassuring in their ordinariness, are typical of the relatively low-keyed elegance of the design of the map. The front cover announces in large, bright letters that it is the “I Love New York Tourism Map.” The bottom of the cover contains the “I Love New York” logo with its red heart replacing the word love and the affectionate message: “State of New York, Mario M. Cuomo, Governor; Department of Commerce, William J. Donohue, Commissioner; This map is provided free of charge by the State of New York.”
The dominant motif of the supplementary material on this map is an inset map, which appears on both the front and the back sides, showing New York divided into eleven regions, as defined by the Department of Commerce. The names of many of these regions have a boosterish ring to them, reflecting their origins, which are rooted as much in the imaginations of tourism promoters as in any geography. They are: Chautauqua-Allegheny, The Niagara Frontier, The Finger Lakes, 1000 Islands-Seaway, The Adirondacks, Central Leatherstocking, Capital-Saratoga, the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island. Under the banner “ New York State: More to see and do than most countries,” a good portion of the back of the map is filled up with descriptions of the attractions of these regions. These regional names also correspond to widely distributed booklets, which provide the tourist with more detailed information about each area.
The remainder of the 1984 “I love New York map” is filled up with text boxes containing a variety of information thought to be useful to travelers. These include descriptions of the wealth of opportunities in New York for such varied activities as golf, outlet shopping, camping, and water recreation. There are tables listing historic sites, campgrounds, weather radio stations, and parks. There is a box containing motor vehicle and customs information. Finally, there is a section listing “traveler’s aids,” which briefly lists other publications available from New York government agencies.
While such a publication might be described as somewhat crass and unsubtle, it is well designed and actually quite useful to travelers. The maps are easy to use, and cartographic and non-cartographic materials are seamlessly woven together to convey the map’s twin messages—that New York is a fabulous place to visit, and that the state government is ready, able, and willing to help citizens and tourists alike explore its treasures.
In the more than thirty years since the launching of the “I love New York” campaign, the state has continued to publish similar road maps. Since 1985, the maps have been printed by several publishers, and various state agencies have in one way or another affected their content and design. The result is that the focus of the map has changed somewhat, and the quality of the design has deteriorated. This is evident in the 2008 version of the map, which was published by the Division of Tourism of the New York State Department of Economic Development, and printed by Map Works, Inc.
The main features of the 2008 edition are similar to those of the 1985 edition. They are of the same size, and both maps are dominated by a large road map of the state with a separate inset for Long Island. Both include an index of towns and other places, inset maps of major cities, a map showing New York’s regions, lists of parks and campgrounds, and a considerable amount of text showing tourist attractions.
The overall design of the 2008 map, however, is much weaker. This may reflect budget cuts as well as the lack of a single design team with a unified vision of what the map should look like. The front and back portions of the folded map are much less attractive than those on its 1984 counterpart. The front cover simply states “New York State Map” above a large red-hearted “I Love New York” logo. Beneath this is a long, almost illegible, unordered list of New York State attractions printed in faint gray type—a space filler if ever there was one. The bottom of the front “cover” is a red box containing the message: “Create your own New York State customized brochure. Go to Iloveny.com or call 800/CALL-NYS.” This is one of several features on the map pointing to the World Wide Web as a source of travel information—definitely an important change from the map of 1984.
The back cover of the 2008 map is an advertisement for Hannaford Supermarket & Pharmacy. Several other large advertisements for hotels and motels can be found elsewhere on the map. It is probable that these ads are a symptom shrinking funds for the publication of free maps. In another possible sign of economy, the paper and printing appear to be of poorer quality than on the Rand McNally version.
The most dramatic differences appear in the design of the state map itself, which is not so strongly focused on roads as its predecessor. The most notable change is that individual counties are the most conspicuous thing on this map: they are shown in different colors, and county names appear in the largest type on the map. This is a big difference from twentieth-century oil company road maps, and reverts to a pattern that is often found on nineteenth-century maps. This suggests that local and regional officials had considerable influence on the design of this map. In part because of the background colors of the counties, roads do not stand out as clearly on the modern version of the map as on its predecessor. There is even a gesture toward including railroads on the map, although railroad lines are not shown. A strange symbol squat symbol resembling a fire hydrant appears in various places on the map. On consulting the legend, it turns out that this is the symbol for a passenger rail station (the symbol actually tries to portray a diesel train seen head on). The legend also helpfully informs us: “Note: not all stations are shown downstate and on Long Island.” There are a number of other, more subtle design changes on the state map. They all add up to a map that is considerably more “busy,” unattractive, and difficult to use.
Aside from the centerpiece map of New York State, there are numerous other changes in the map as a whole. There are more inset maps of relatively small cities like Binghamton, Ithaca, and Elmira—which may be another sign of the influence of local governments (and their representatives in the legislature) on the map. A few things on the new map appear to be improvements. It cuts down on the somewhat overwhelming collection of textual tourist information on the 1984 map, and includes an intercity mileage log, which is easier to read than the earlier version. It leaves out a list of historic places, but it includes a list of the major airports in the state. The most striking addition to the new version is an inset map of the state showing the location of New York State parks. It is a shaded relief map with hypsometric tints. This display of topography is a marked departure from the road map tradition. The inset map also shows interstate highways in the state, along with railroad lines and stations—thereby indicating clearly that there is more than one way to travel to state parks.
These two versions of the New York State tourism map illustrate many of the reoccurring problems involved in interpreting and comparing maps. They show clearly how the content of a map reflects its intended purpose, which is in turn conditioned by a variety of cultural, political, social, economic, and other factors. It is very difficult to determine exactly how a particular map derived its content, or to isolate it from its socio-cultural context. The two maps under examination here clearly borrowed heavily from previous maps, particularly road maps, and an element of inertia is in their makeup. It is unclear how many people were involved in designing these maps, or who influenced their design decisions. The cost of maps and available technology also played into their shaping. Further, the maps not isolated from the tables and text that surround them—cartographic and non-cartographic elements interact to form a greater whole. Thus, each map exists as an inseparable part of a sometimes indecipherable network of relationships and connections.
It is equally difficult, although not impossible, to make judgments about the quality of maps. Maps made prior to the middle of the nineteenth century can be evaluated, in part, in terms of their geodetic accuracy. This has made it tempting for generations of cartographic historians to speak in terms of “progress” in map making, and I think that concept has some value if it is restricted to the development of Western cartography, and not treated as some kind of universal metaphysical principle. But in dealing with modern maps, such as the two under consideration here, geodetic accuracy is not much of an issue, although quality of design is. Most people (or at least most non-academics) would acknowledge the existence of “good maps” and “bad maps,” even though it is often difficult to articulate what makes them good or bad. There seems to be no progress here, and well and poorly designed maps have existed since the beginning of map making. The criteria of differentiation seem to be based partially on aesthetics, and partially on the utility of the maps (how well they fulfill their intended purposes). Based on these criteria, probably most observers would agree that the 1984 “I Love New York Map” is better on the whole than its 2008 counterpart.Atlases
The publication history of New York State atlases in the twentieth century follows a somewhat different trajectory from that of other cartographic materials. Prior to about 1950, atlas publication followed familiar patterns, and none of them are particularly remarkable. In the last half of the twentieth century, on the other hand, state atlas publication flourished, and many innovative and often highly specialized atlases appeared.
As noted above, the publication of property atlases suffered a sharp decline after 1920, and had practically ceased by 1930. Most of the atlases published between 1920 and 1950 were regional street atlases, such as those produced by the Hagstrom Company for the New York Metropolitan Area, and by Geographica, Map Works, and the Marshal Penn-York Co. for other parts of the state. The only statewide atlases that were published between 1920 and 1940 two specialized titles with very limited distribution, namely: an Atlas of Rural Electric Lines in New York State (published by the Empire State Gas and Electric Association in 1931) and a School District Atlas of the State of New York (published in 1937 by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York).
Starting in 1941, F.E. Richards—a small publisher in Phoenix, New York, who specialized in educational materials—published the first of several important thematic atlases of the state: William P. Munger’s Historical Atlas of New York State. This was followed in 1955 and 1956 by the more elaborate Lamb’s Sectional Atlas of New York State, which appeared in eleven volumes covering different geographical regions of the state.. Richard’s next venture appeared in 1957, and bore the title Richards Atlas of New York State. This important atlas, which appeared in a revised edition in 1965, remains the best single source for thematic maps covering the entire state.
This brings us to the period around 1970, when the use of computers started to have a significant impact on the production of maps. The development of digital mapping will be examined in more detail in the following section, and here it will suffice to note that computerized mapping greatly facilitated the production of complex atlases, especially those containing thematic maps. In the following decades, numerous specialized thematic atlases were published, particularly by state agencies and academic presses.
A sampling of titles should give an idea of the variety within this wave of specialized atlases. In 1969, the New York State Office of Planning Coordination published its Appalachian Region of New York State: An Atlas of Natural and Cultural Resources. 1970 saw the appearance of Paul R. Baumann’s Water Balance Atlas of New York State, which was published by the Department of Geography at SUNY Oneonta. A less specialized atlas, published by the State Department of Transportation beginning in 1974, is its rather prosaic New York State County Atlas. In 1975, the first edition of the Solar Energy Atlas for New York State appeared. In 1979, an Agricultural Atlas of New York State was published. 1983 saw the appearance of New York State: A Socio-Economic Atlas. In 1984 the Atlas of New York State Ferns appeared. In 1988 the first edition of The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State was hatched. This is by no means a complete list of the thematic atlases of New York published in recent decades.
Another notable event occurred in 1987 with the publication of the first edition of the popular DeLorme New York State Atlas & Gazetteer. This is one of a series of state atlases produced by the DeLorme Publishing Company of Yarmouth Maine. Founded in 1976, DeLorme started its remarkably successful career with several paperback atlases of New England States, which served as models for its atlases of other states. These atlases can be described as a kind of hybrid between USGS topographic maps and tourist maps of the “I love New York” variety. At a scale of 1:150,000, the New York State Atlas and Gazetteer is sufficiently detailed to show the network of rural roads, as well as topography by means of contour lines. These maps are supplemented by textual information that closely resembles an expanded version of the “I Love New York” map—including an index of place names, along with lists of parks, campgrounds, golf courses, historic sites, and other attractions.
DeLorme clearly found a “sweet spot” in the market. Although its atlases are not sufficiently detailed for hiking or for navigating the street network of major cities, they are very useful for automobile touring and for studying the general geography of the state. For those who need to refer to more detailed maps, each two-page “spread” of the atlas is divided up into 28 sections, each of which corresponds to one USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle. DeLorme atlases are frequently updated, and improved in various ways. Recent editions of Delorme’s New York State Atlas feature shaded relief as well as contour lines, and include longitude-latitude grids for use with GPS (Global Positioning Systems). The DeLorme formula has been sufficiently successful to inspire imitation and competition, and somewhat similar products are now available from Jimapco, Hagstrom, and American Map Corporation.
DeLorme has also been a pioneer of digital cartography. Its state atlases are based in part on digital data files available from the USGS. In 1991, DeLorme introduced the highly successful Street Atlas USA, which it claims to be the “first consumer CD-ROM mapping product.” More recently, it has developed GPS products, and markets a wide range of digital maps designed for easy use. In spite of its extensive line of computerized products, its paperback state atlases continue to be popular—a strong indication that there will continue to be a place for paper products in the increasingly digital world of cartography.
Digital Mapping, 1970 – Present
The use of computers to produce and view maps constitutes a major revolution in the history of cartography. Computerization arguably has had a greater impact on map making than any development since the invention of printing. Although computer-based mapping has been widely used for only about forty years, it is possible to distinguish three distinct (although overlapping) phases in the development of digital cartography. The first was the use of computers to produce maps on paper. Next, came the introduction of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to produce and view maps on computers as well as to make paper maps. Most recently, maps have moved onto the World Wide Web, where a large audience of users can view and sometimes modify them.
The Transition from Paper to Digital Mapping
Although the intellectual roots of computer-based cartography can be traced back for many decades, it was not until the 1950s that researchers began to explore seriously the potential of computers as a tool for map making. Even then, the implementation of automated cartography required considerable improvements in computing power and storage, and the development of new software and hardware (including plotters and printers). Consequently, it was not until the 1970s that the large-scale production of maps by computer became practical and widely adopted.
New York played a pioneering role in computerized mapping through a project known as the New York State Land Use and Natural Information (LUNR) inventory. This ambitious project from the Rockefeller era was conducted between 1968 and the early 1970s by the Center for Aerial Photographic Studies at Cornell University under contract from the State Office of Planning Coordination. Although it is almost forgotten today, LUNR appears to be New York’s only state-wide land use mapping project.
In this project, aerial photographs of the state at a scale of 1:24,000 were divided up into 140,000 cells, each covering one square kilometer. Each cell was then coded according a classification system involving 90 major categories and 40 subcategories of land use. The resulting data was used to produce transparent plastic overlays, which could be placed on top of conventional 7.5 minute maps. These overlays were produced manually, and appear to be the most widely used product of the LUNR project. The data was also keypunched on computer readable forms, which could be analyzed using early database and mapping programs (DATALIST and PLANMAP).
The LUNR Inventory is historically interesting as one of the earliest computerized land use mapping projects. The database it generated received limited use in regional planning projects in the 1970s, but it was not updated after 1974, and is no longer used. Because of the way it was designed, LUNR turned out to be something of a dead end. Its 1 kilometer grid square was not sufficiently detailed for many purposes, and its data was structured in such a way that could not be transferred to more modern GIS systems. The fate of LUNR was shared by several other pioneering projects of the early computer era—reminding us once again that pioneers are known to end up riddled with arrows or bullets.
Computer produced maps became more common after the middle of the 1970s. The U.S. Bureau of the Census, starting in 1967, developed a more viable form of computer mapping known as the GBF/DIME system (a predecessor of the better-known TIGER software, which was used by the 1990 census). The TIGER software, in turn, is the ancestor of the Census Bureau’s present automated mapping system, and of much else in modern GIS.
An early example computer cartography on paper is the Urban Atlas series produced by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for the 1970 census. These large, floppy paperback volumes, which can still be found on the shelves of some libraries, display census tract data for major urban areas in the United States. They contain colored maps for twelve categories of data, and include the major urban areas in New York. Like many computer-produced thematic maps, these census maps are choropleth maps, which display statistical data in areas with predefined boundaries. Figure 4.6 shows a more recent example of this type of map. The boundary files for such maps are compactly stored as vector data (mathematically defined lines, points, and curves), which are used as a framework to display statistical information stored in tables. Although not necessarily the best type of thematic map for many purposes, choropleth maps are so easy to create from computerized data that they have become the most common form of thematic map since the introduction of automated cartography. The 1970s and 1980s saw a profusion of similar maps, many of them produced by regional planning boards and other agencies in New York State. Such maps are now widely available on the World Wide Web from the Census Bureau and other sites Also in the 1970s, the USGS began converting geographic information into digital form. In its early work, most of this data conversion involved the creation of vector files representing such things as contour lines, political boundaries, roads, and hydrography. The best known of these data sets are the Digital Line Graphs (DLGs). They are free, widely available, and popular with users of GIS. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increasing amount of digitization by the USGS of maps in the form of raster or image data. A raster map is made up of a grid of pixels, like the image on a television screen or a digital photograph. Raster images require much more computer power and storage space than vector data, which explains in part why they did not become prominent until the computer revolution was well underway. The most widely used of the USGS raster images are digital versions of the familiar topographic quadrangle maps, known as digital raster graphics (DRGs). Also widely used are Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), which are frequently combined with aerial photographs or other data sets to create three-dimensional maps.
Since the early 1990s, emphasis at the USGS has shifted away from the production of topographic maps on paper to something called “the National Map.” Somewhat confusingly, the National Map is not actually a map (not even a virtual one), but rather a collection of standards for the production of analog and digital maps. According to its official definition,”The National Map is a collaborative effort of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and other federal, state, and local agencies to improve and deliver topographic information for the United States.”
For most users, the most important part of the National Map program is known as “US Topo.” Introduced in 2009, these maps are intended to replace the old 7.5 minute quadrangles, and to cover the same geographic areas. Although it is possible to order paper copies from the USGS, they are produced in a purely digital format (GeoPDF) from separate layers of data consisting of orthoimagery, hydrology, contours, roads, and geographic names. They can be downloaded for free, and sections can be printed or used with some computer programs (although they are not intended to replace full-fledged GIS datafiles). Because they are made up of layers of digital information, they can be updated much more easily and frequently than the old paper map series, and they are scheduled to be revised every three years. The digital format also makes it relatively easy for various agencies and institutions to collaborate in their updating. Coverage of New York State is complete except for a few “non-standard” quadrangles. These GeoPDFs, which for New York are mostly dated 2010, are the most current readily available large-scale maps of the state.
Following in the footsteps of the USGS, the New York State Department of Transportation started to convert its most important map series into raster images, which could be both displayed on a computer screen, and used to produce maps in paper form. Here are some landmarks in this process: the first digital county base map appeared in 1988, the first digital raster quadrangle in1990, the first digital 1:250,000 four-sheet base maps in 1994, and the first digital New York State Atlas in1995.
Use of GIS
The spread of cartographic information in digital form was accelerated by the use of relatively powerful and easy-to-use Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The pioneer in commercial GIS was a California-based company known as Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), which was founded in 1969. In 1982, ESRI launched the first commercial GIS program, which was known as ArcInfo. The original ArcInfo ran on mini-computers, and was used primarily by government and private corporations to produce maps on paper. In 1986, a version of ArcInfo was developed that could run on desktop PCs. Since that time, ESRI and its competitors have marketed GIS programs that have become widely used in a variety of settings, including universities, non-profit organizations, and some public libraries and schools.
Since 1990, a great deal of cartographic information has been produced in formats compatible with GIS programs produced by ESRI and others, much of which is publicly available without charge. New York State has two major clearinghouses for this type of data. One is the Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository (CUGIR). Digital data available at CUGIR includes 1:24,000 and 1:250,000 scale quadrangle maps, political boundaries, hydrology, transportation, agricultural districts, and specialized data files for areas of special interest, such as the Adirondacks and the Hudson River Valley. All CUGIR data is free and available to everyone.
The other major repository for state GIS data is the New York State GIS Clearinghouse. This official state clearinghouse is run by the New York State Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination (of which more later). The materials there overlap those at CUGIR , but also include free high-resolution digital orthoimagery (rectified aerial photographs) for most of the state. The New York State GIS Clearinghouse also includes hundreds of other data sets produced by New York State agencies. All of them are available without charge to members of the New York State Data Cooperative, which includes all state agencies, including state colleges and universities. Some of these data sets are freely available to all, but others are restricted, and may require non-clearinghouse members to pay a fee for their use.
Although the GIS programs developed since 1990 are relatively easy to use, they are still sufficiently complicated and specialized that they cannot be said to practical for the casual user. Their use is still largely confined to business, government, and academia. Although free or inexpensive programs are available to view GIS data, the ordinary citizen’s experience with GIS has mostly been through paper maps produced from GIS files. This situation has started to change with the introduction of computerized mapping on the World Wide Web.
Maps on the World Wide Web and Other Recent Technological Developments
Since the late 1990s, digital maps have become widely available to users of the World Wide Web—a development that has finally made computer-produced cartography readily available to the computer-using public. To a certain extent, it has even made it possible for ordinary people to participate in the creation or modification of maps, which is truly a new development in the history of cartography.
Old Maps on the Web
Readers of this book are already aware that numerous images of historic maps are available on the World Wide Web. Many references have been made to the zoomable, high-resolution images available from such sites as The Library of Congress, the David Rumsey Collection, and the New York Public Library. Many other sites also offer images of maps, and even small collections may be particularly relevant for specific subjects or regions, although their images vary in quality. Many academic and public libraries, as well as historical societies, have made at least some images of old maps available on the Web. Recently a comprehensive gateway or portal site has been developed, which allows users to search the contents of several of the most important online map collections. Known as Old Maps Online, this site allows users to narrow their searches by both geographic location and date of publication. So far the number of institutions participating in this project is limited, but more will likely join in the future, and its search engine will probably be improved by adding such features as searching by keyword and author name.
Many other resources can be used to look for maps missed by Old Maps Online. Sometimes individual items can be located by using search engines, such as Google or OCLC, but many online maps are not turned up by such searches. Another alternative is to look for institutions that maintain lists of links to other sites that have historical maps. The most comprehensive list of map Web sites appears to be “Historical Map Web Sites” maintained by the Perry-Casteñada Library at the University of Texas at Austin. Another useful starting point for those interested in early maps on the Web is the Map History/History of Cartography site, maintained by Tony Campbell, retired map librarian at the British Library. Many large academic libraries, including several SUNY campuses, have map collections with pages that link to a variety of cartographic resources, often with a regional focus. If all else fails, it may be helpful to check the Web sites of individual institutions that might have maps relevant to your research.
Of course, not all maps on the Web are images of antique maps. An amazing variety of contemporary maps and other cartographic materials can be found by using a search engine or by following collections of links maintained by libraries and other sites. Two of my favorite digital maps of New York State will be singled out here to give a sense of what is available. One is The Color Landform Atlas of New York State, which has several shaded relief maps, including a wonderful underwater shaded relief map of the Hudson Canyon. Those interested in demographic maps should investigate the Digital Atlas of New York City. This atlas, prepared by Professor William A. Bowen at California State University at Northridge, includes hundreds of clickable maps derived from 1990 U.S. Census data.
Interactive Online GIS Maps
The sites discussed so far focus on presenting static images of individual maps. One of the most important recent developments in online mapping is the creation of software that makes it possible to use GIS data interactively on the Web. Many of the most interesting and important sites using this type of software are national in scope, but a few specialize in New York materials. Before going on to describe projects specfic to New York State or its subdivisions, some of these national sites should be mentioned because they often contain large amounts of information pertaining to New York State.
An excellent example of a user friendly GIS application is the National Atlas of the United States. Although this atlas covers the entire country (and even includes some continent-wide information), it allows the user to zoom in to the level of individual states. Although the maps in the National Atlas are not sufficiently detailed for some purposes, you can get state-level overview information for a wide range of subjects. The pull-down menu of map layers makes it possible to view maps of hundreds of subjects, including roads, crime statistics, land cover, butterfly distribution, geology, shaded relief, health statistics, streams and lakes—to name just a few.
For those interested in demographic information, a good place to start is the previously mentioned American FactFinder of the U.S. Census Bureau. This site has a number of resources, which allow one to create thematic maps down to the census tract level for any area of the United States. Although it is not as easy to use as the National Atlas, The American FactFinder comes with excellent tutorials, which provide a good introduction to this software.
Another easily accessible online GIS application comes from David Rumsey. Readers of this book are familiar with the large collection of high-resolution maps historical maps available at the David Rumsey Collection. In addition to presenting static images of historical maps, the Rumsey site includes a “GIS browser,” for exploring maps of selected urban areas, including New York City. The Rumsey GIS browser comes in two versions: a “basic browser,” for those unfamiliar with GIS interfaces, and a “professional browser.” The professional browser is one is one of the most interesting and sophisticated GIS programs available on the Internet, and it is well worth exploring, if only to see what such programs can do. One impressive feature of the Rumsey GIS browser is its ability to overlay historical maps with modern maps and aerial photographs. It also has tools that make it possible to compare these maps side by side, or to “blend” the images together by changing their opacity. These capabilities are wonderful for such purposes as examining the changes in street patterns or shorelines in an urban area over time. In addition, certain features—such as roads, lakes, and parks—can be turned off or on by the click of a mouse. This site includes many other features, which are all worth exploring.
Turning to sites focused on New York State, there no longer appears to be an official online GIS application for the state, although formerly the New York State GIS Clearinghouse sponsored a “New York State Interactive Mapping Gateway.” This site allowed users to display and zoom in on a variety of layers, including administrative boundaries, hydrography, roads, digital raster maps, and orthophotoimagery. Unfortunately, it was slow and not very well documented, which made it difficult to use, all of which may explain why it is no longer available.
At present there are a number of somewhat more specialized online GIS applications that provide much useful information about New York State for the general public. An excellent interactive source for mapping census data is “Map New York,” which was developed by a team headed by John Logan at the Lewis Mumford Center at the University at Albany. Another useful and comprehensive site is the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Atlas, which is produced by the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council.[ 90] This online atlas delivers much more than its title implies. It includes several hundred data layers, which are nested together, and can be displayed individually or in groups. It includes much more than data about New York’s Great Lakes and ocean waters. In addition to showing such expected things as depth contours, eelgrass distribution, and marine mammal habitat around Long Island, it includes extensive information about all areas of the state. Data layers include administrative boundaries, historic places, administrative boundaries, forest cover in the Adirondacks, campgrounds, surficial geology, and more.
There are several even more specialized online GIS servers focusing on New York State, its sub-regions, or on parts of the state with its neighbors. One of these provides planning coverage for the New York and New Jersey Highlands area. Another is a GIS server operated by the USGS with environmental data for Long Island Sound. Several county or regional planning associations also make available varying amounts of GIS data. Thus, Erie County has an internet mapping server, which focuses on real estate and land use information. Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island are served by a particularly content-rich online GIS, which focuses on land use and public services, and has recently added historic trolley lines to its collection of resources. Those interested in tracking down additional sites may want to begin by checking the list of interactive GIS servers in New York State maintained by the Syracuse University Library.
As might be expected, given its wealth and concentration of technological talent, some of the most spectacular examples of Web-based GIS projects come from New York City. The city itself maintains a comprehensive GIS site known as NYCityMap. This site includes aerial photographs of all five boroughs taken from 1924 to the present, along with city street maps, municipal boundaries, and numerous other data layers. By clicking on individual layers, one can get information on an incredible number of subjects, including: the location of schools, police stations, economic development zones, theaters, fire houses, subway stations, senior centers, and snow removal streets. There are also layers for such specialized information as the location of water fountains, bicycle racks, green markets, and immunization walk-in centers. One link even goes to detailed information about the city’s rat population, and about the status of the ongoing efforts to reduce it.
Although it is unusually comprehensive and well done, the New York City municipal GIS resembles in its basic approach other GIS projects done by large cities in New York State and elsewhere. Several other projects focusing on New York City are conceptually more innovative. One of these is the New York Public Library’s New York City Historical GIS Project. This project involves digitizing large numbers of old maps from the library’s collection, and then georectifying and “warping” them to allow them to be superimposed on top of modern maps—thus enabling viewers to see graphically how specific places have changed through time. This project resembles on a larger scale the previously mentioned work done by David Rumsey in his “GIS Browser.” The New York Public Library’s project takes this a step further by allowing volunteers on the Web to georectify additional maps in the library’s digital collection. As a final step, Web-based volunteers can engage in what Matt Knutzen, director of the project, calls “map tracing.” According to Knutzen, “map tracing is preparing machine readable data to be harvested, mined, analyzed, mashed, made a part of the semantic web, and related to itself, across time.” So far, map tracing has been used mainly to add information about individual buildings—such as the names of owners or types of construction—to maps in property atlases. It will be interesting to see what directions what this “crowd sourcing” of data creation about maps takes in the future.
Another online source with detailed information about New York City is known as the Welikia Project. This is the successor to Eric W. Sanderson’s Mannahatta Project (1999-2009), which was and is an ambitious effort to reconstruct Manhattan as it appeared in 1609 using historic maps and other materials. Although the Welikia Project is intended to expand Sanderson’s work beyond Manhattan to the other boroughs of New York City, almost all of the publicly available information on this site still relates to Manhattan. Here it is possible to explore Manhattan on a block-by-block basis, to obtain information about what was there in 1609, and to compare it with information about the block today through links to yet another New York City Web site, OASIS.
OASIS (New York City Open Space Information System) synthesizes information drawn from a number of sources, including all three interactive GIS sites described above. OASIS is a cooperative venture run by the Center for Urban Research of The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). It focuses primarily on land use, open space, environmental, and community resource issues. It includes selected historical map overlays from the New York Public Library, as well as data layers from the Mannahatta Project, which appear not to be available on the Welikia site or elsewhere on the Web.Thus, only on OASIS is it possible to create and display a map of possible marbled salamander habitats on Manhattan in 1609.
GPS, Mashups and More
The world of Internet mapping is expanding and changing so rapidly that it impossible to keep track of all the most recent developments—much less to anticipate what will be developed in the next few years. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning a few recent trends that are important for map users in New York.
One trend, which is so obvious that it is easy to overlook, is the use of online road maps, which are among the most popular cartographic items available on the Web . Most of these road map applications are national (in some cases worldwide) in coverage, and are provided by giant corporations like MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, and Google Maps. They show almost every drivable road in the country, and are frequently used to obtain driving directions. They are so ubiquitous and easy to use that it is unnecessary to describe them in detail.
Another recent development is the widespread use of global positioning systems (GPS). Originally developed for the military, GPS uses satellite data to ascertain the precise longitude and latitude of any place in the world. It is an extraordinary development, when one considers the struggles that cartographers in earlier times underwent to measure longitudes and latitudes. In the world of civilian mapping, GPS was first used by surveyors, who still sometimes carry large GPS units on their backs as they conduct their work. With the advent of digital topographic maps, small handheld GPS units became popular with hikers. As early as the 1980s, automobile manufactures started experimenting with combining GPS and road maps stored on CD-ROM. Automobile route finders—which have gradually become less expensive, easier to use, and more reliable—are now among the most widespread application of GPS among map users.
The most recent development in consumer-oriented digital mapping is the use of “mashups.” A mashup is a hybrid Web application, which combines information from two or more sources. There are various types of mashups, many of which have nothing to do with maps. For convenience, map mashups can be roughly divided into two kinds: business and personal.
Business mashups are familiar to most users of the World Wide Web, even if they have not heard the word “mashup.” They include maps on real estate Web sites, which show the locations of houses for sale, and online maps showing the location of filling stations or restaurants in a particular area. MapQuest, Google Maps, and other providers also make it possible for advertisers to purchase geographically coded links to their maps.
Personal mashups are particularly intriguing. With personal mashups, individuals can add their own information to maps created by others, usually by huge corporations like Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google. This peculiar partnering between individual computer users and giant corporations makes it possible for people to participate, at least to some extent, in creating their own maps. This is a singular departure in the history of cartography, since previously ordinary people have been the passive recipients of maps produced by technical specialists and paid for by government or corporate elites.
Most user-created map mashups are still fairly primitive. The majority of them consist of digital pushpins, which a person can place on a map along with a link to a photograph or other piece of information. A simple application of this type can be found on the photo sharing site Flickr, which allows members to place markers on a map to pinpoint the locations of their photographs. Any user can then search for these geotaged photographs by keywords or geographic area. Thus on Flickr, one can retrieve numerous photographs of the Erie Canal, or of birds on Long Island, or call up collections of pictures linked to a particular location on a map. Like several other applications, Flickr allows you to toggle between street maps and aerial images. Although this feature is mainly used by amateur photographers to show off their pictures, it could be used by botanists to map trees in the Adirondacks, or by community activists to display photographs of abandoned buildings in Buffalo. Thus, this application has potential uses for a wide range of groups, including hobbyists, amateur and professional scientists, and community activists.
The most sophisticated sites for mashups come from Google in the form of two related applications: Google Maps and Google Earth. Google Maps is on the surface a relatively conventional travel information Web site, which allows users to zoom in on detailed road maps, relief maps, and aerial images of the earth (satellite images for small-scale views, and aerial photographs for greater detail). It can display a number of other features, including photographs, and articles from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Many of the photographs are taken by individuals and uploaded through the Panoramio Web site (a photo sharing service similar to Flickr). Google Maps also includes live traffic information for some areas, and large amounts of paid advertising for motels, filling stations, and other commercial establishments. It is also possible for individuals to make additions and corrections on Google Maps using a tool called Google Map Maker, although these have to be approved before they are displayed to the public. Finally, users who have access to a server can create their own specialized maps, which can be displayed against the backdrop of Google Maps. Although its basic features are easy to use, the site is sufficiently complicated that books have been written about it, which are useful for those who want to create maps to display on the Web.
Google Earth, which is even more complex and sophisticated, is a free program, that needs to be downloaded and installed on your computer. Somewhat like Google Maps, it is layered like an onion, with varying levels of complexity. For the casual user, Google Earth presents a simple GIS-type interface, which displays various layers of information (such as roads, attractions, and congressional districts) against a background of satellite images and aerial photographs. The Google Earth display can be zoomed in to great detail, down to the level of individual houses in many areas. It has some features that are lacking in Google Maps, including three-dimensional views of buildings, and visual terrain “fly-throughs.” In Google Earth, it is fairly easy to add digital pushpins to mark places, and to add photographs to the base map for your own use. More sophisticated users can use a simple programming language called KML (or its varient KMZ) to create complex mashups, including vector and raster maps, which can be laid over Google Earth’s background images. Most of these maps created by individuals or organizations must be downloaded from separate Web sites before they can be displayed in Google Earth. Many KML applications can be displayed on both Google Maps and Google Earth, but Google Earth accepts a wider range of add-on maps.
Examples of user-created content can be found in the “Gallery” section of Google Earth, although as of this writing it contains relatively little for New York State. One item in the Gallery especially worth exploring comes from David Rumsey, who has made part of his collection of historical maps available to users of both Google Maps and Google Earth. Basically, his application allows you to overlay selected historical maps from his collection over the Google background images, and to compare them with modern imagery using a transparency slider. This is a considerably less sophisticated application than those available directly on the David Rumsey site, but it is an interesting example of what can be done with the Google software. This subset of the Rumsey Collection includes a group of maps showing New York City at various dates.
Most Google Earth applications can be located easily by using a Web search application, such as Google itself (for example, by doing a search combining terms such as “Hudson River” and “KMZ”). A large number of sites with materials relating to New York State can be found in this way, ranging from the comprehensive to the trivial. One of the most impressive of these is hosted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; it includes (among many other things) maps of hiking trails and the Breeding Birds Atlas. Also noteworthy is Brian Abbott’s elaborate New York City Subway Map, as is a grant-funded set of landscape and environmental tours of New York’s regions produced by a group of high school and university educators.
New York State Maps in the Twenty-First Century
The dramatic technological changes of recent decades drastically affected the work of surveyors and map makers in New York. After the flurry of activity in the Rockefeller years, mapping by the state government went into a steep decline. Partially because of budget cuts, but mostly because of GIS and other technological changes, state agencies have nearly ceased to conduct traditional surveying and mapping activities.
These changes were brought into focus by the state’s reaction to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center On Sept. 9, 2001. In September, 2002, the role of coordinating the state’s mapping activities was transferred from the Mapping Unit of the Dept. of Transportation to a new agency, known as the Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination (CSCIC). This agency is responsible for the distribution of maps, GIS information, and aerial orthoimagery. It is also involved in protecting against attacks on New York State’s computers, and in coordinating with the Dept. of Homeland Security. The CSCIC does continue to sell paper maps in series previously produced by the Dept. of Transportation, but it is not engaged in creating maps, and its cartographic concerns focus almost entirely on GIS and other computer-related activities.
In 2008, the CSCIC issued the first comprehensive assessment of the state’s mapping activities since 1968. The emphasis of the new program is revealed clearly by its title, New York State GIS Strategic Plan. This document provides a good summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s computerized mapping program. It is revealing that many of the problems that beset nineteenth-century mapmakers still continue to rank high on the list of concerns of GIS technicians. The most serious deficiencies identified in the plan have to do with inadequate survey information, including: lack of sufficient elevation data to accurately map flood hazards; inadequately mapped municipal and other administrative boundaries; lack of a statewide mapping system for real estate parcels; and lack of adequate wetlands mapping. The report is also critical of the state’s failure to make digital cartographic information readily available in user-friendly form. Thus, the introduction of GIS and computerized mapping clearly has not solved the problems created by inadequate surveying and lack of uniformity in the collection and presentation of cartographic data.
Given the rapid pace of change in mapping technology, it is hazardous to make predictions about the future. It seems certain that almost all mapping done by the state and other government agencies will continue to be done using GIS and other computer-based technologies. Government cartographers, providing they can obtain funding, will have no trouble finding work to do—as the 2008 strategic plan makes clear, there is still a need for more detailed and accurate surveying, as well as for updating and improving maps in digital form. With some degree of confidence, we can expect these things to happen in the future.
Commercial maps will also continue to be produced mostly in digital form. The only maps likely to be drawn by hand are those made by artists, and certain types of novelty maps. Even these are likely to be drawn using computer drafting programs.
In spite of the widespread popularity of digital mapping, some consumers will continue to demand and receive maps in paper—reference atlases, road maps, paperback atlases, topographic maps, and hiking maps are especially likely to continue to remain in print. At the same time, the use of maps on the Web and of route maps on portable computers will be likely to increase. Whether the new ability of end users to create or modify maps with their own information will lead to any significant political or social changes is an open question.