The 38 States of America: Geography Professor Creates a Bold Modern Map of America (1973)

Unless you belong to an old­er gen­er­a­tion, you prob­a­bly can’t remem­ber the last time the map of the Unit­ed States under­went any major change. For decades, the bound­aries have remained pret­ty fixed. And yet the map, as we know it, should­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be con­sid­ered set in stone.

If bil­lion­aire Tim Drap­er has his way, Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers will decide in 2018 whether Cal­i­for­nia, the home to near­ly 40 mil­lion peo­ple, should be divid­ed into three states called “North­ern Cal­i­for­nia,” “South­ern Cal­i­for­nia,” and plain “Cal­i­for­nia.” His argu­ment being that Cal­i­for­nia has become too large to gov­ern, and that pow­er should be moved toward small­er, more local­ly gov­erned enti­ties. Mean­while, on a par­al­lel track, anoth­er group is push­ing for Cal­i­for­nia to leave the union alto­geth­er. Right there, we have two ini­tia­tives that could change the map as we know it.

And then there was the time when, back in 1973, George Etzel Pearcy, a Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty geog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor, pro­posed re-draw­ing the map of the nation, reduc­ing the num­ber of states to 38, and giv­ing each state a dif­fer­ent name. In his cre­ative rework­ing of things, Cal­i­for­nia would be split into two states–“El Dora­do” and “San Gabriel”. Texas would divide into “Alamo” and also “Shawnee” (along with rem­nants of Okla­homa). And the Dako­tas would fuse into one big “Dako­ta.” In case you’re won­der­ing, Pearcy chose the names by polling geog­ra­phy stu­dents.

The log­ic behind the new map was explained in a 1975 edi­tion of The Peo­ple’s Almanac.

Why the need for a new map? Pearcy states that many of the ear­ly sur­veys that drew up our bound­aries were done while the areas were scarce­ly pop­u­lat­ed. Thus, it was con­ve­nient to deter­mine bound­aries by using the land’s phys­i­cal fea­tures, such as rivers and moun­tain ranges, or by using a sim­ple sys­tem of lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude.… The prac­ti­cal­i­ty of old estab­lished State lines is ques­tion­able in light of Amer­i­ca’s ever-grow­ing cities and the increas­ing mobil­i­ty of its cit­i­zens. Met­ro­pol­i­tan New York, for exam­ple, stretch­es into 2 adja­cent States. Oth­er city pop­u­la­tions which cross State lines are Wash­ing­ton, D.C., St. Louis, Chica­go, and Kansas City. The “strad­dling” of State lines caus­es eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal prob­lems. Who should pay for a rapid tran­sit sys­tem in St. Louis? Only those cit­i­zens with­in the bound­aries of Mis­souri, or all res­i­dents of St. Louis’s met­ro­pol­i­tan area, includ­ing those who reach over into the State of Illi­nois?…

When Pearcy realigned the U.S., he gave high pri­or­i­ty to pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty, loca­tion of cities, lines of trans­porta­tion, land relief, and size and shape of indi­vid­ual States.  When­ev­er pos­si­ble lines are locat­ed in less pop­u­lat­ed areas. In the West, the desert, semi­desert, or moun­tain­ous areas pro­vid­ed an easy method for divi­sion. In the East, how­ev­er, where areas of scarce pop­u­la­tion are hard­er to deter­mine, Pearcy drew lines “try­ing to avoid the thick­er clus­ters of set­tle­ment.”  Each major city which fell into the “strad­dling” cat­e­go­ry is neat­ly tucked with­in the bound­aries of a new State. Pearcy tried to place a major met­ro­pol­i­tan area in the cen­ter of each State. St. Louis is in the cen­ter of the State of Osage, Chica­go is cen­tered in the State of Dear­born. When this method proved impos­si­ble, as with coastal Los Ange­les, the city is still locat­ed so as to be eas­i­ly acces­si­ble from all parts of the State…

Accord­ing to Rob Lamm­le, writ­ing in Men­tal Floss, Pearcy ini­tial­ly got sup­port from “econ­o­mists, geo­g­ra­phers, and even a few politi­cians.” But the proposal–mainly out­lined in a book called A 38 State U.S.A.even­tu­al­ly with­ered in Wash­ing­ton, the place where ideas, both good and bad, go to die.

Below you can watch an ani­ma­tion show­ing how US map has changed in 200 years.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Lets You Down­load Thou­sands of Maps from the Unit­ed States Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Now Free Online

New York Pub­lic Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Down­load and Use

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