Colorful Maps from 1914 and 2016 Show How Planes & Trains Have Made the World Smaller and Travel Times Quicker

This time of year espe­cial­ly, we com­plain about the greed and arro­gance of air­lines, the con­fu­sion and inef­fi­cien­cy of air­ports, and the sar­dine seat­ing of coach. But we don’t have to go back very far to get a sense of just how tru­ly painful long-dis­tance trav­el used to be. Just step back a hun­dred years or so when—unless you were a WWI pilot—you trav­eled by train or by ship, where all sorts of mis­ad­ven­tures might befall you, and where a jour­ney that might now take sev­er­al dull hours could take sev­er­al dozen, often very uncom­fort­able, days. Before rail­roads crossed the con­ti­nents, that num­ber could run into the hun­dreds.

In the ear­ly 1840s, for exam­ple, notes Simon Willis at The Econ­o­mist’s 1843 Mag­a­zine, “an Amer­i­can dry-goods mer­chant called Asa Whit­ney, who lived near New York, trav­elled to Chi­na on busi­ness. It took 153 days, which he thought was a waste of time.” It’s prob­a­bly eas­i­er to swal­low plat­i­tudes about des­ti­na­tions and jour­neys when the jour­ney doesn’t take up near­ly half the year and run the risk of cholera. By 1914, the explo­sion of rail­roads had reduced trav­el times con­sid­er­ably, but they remained at what we would con­sid­er intol­er­a­ble lengths.

We can see just how long it took to get from place to place in the “isochron­ic map” above (view it in a large for­mat here), which visu­al­izes dis­tances all over the globe. The rail­ways “were well-estab­lished,” notes Giz­mo­do, “in Europe and the U.S., too, mak­ing trav­el far more swift than it had been in the past.” One could reach “the depths of Siberia” from Lon­don in under ten days, thanks to the Trans-Siber­ian Rail­way. By con­trast, in Africa and South Amer­i­ca, “any trav­el inland from the coast took weeks.”

The map, cre­at­ed by roy­al car­tog­ra­ph­er John G. Bartholomew, came pack­aged with sev­er­al oth­er such tools in An Atlas of Eco­nom­ic Geog­ra­phy, a book, Willis explains, “intend­ed for school­boys,” con­tain­ing “every­thing a thrust­ing young entre­pre­neur, impe­ri­al­ist, trad­er or trav­eller could need.” All of the dis­tances are mea­sured in “days from Lon­don,” and col­or-cod­ed in the leg­end below. Dark green areas, such as Sudan, much of Brazil, inland Aus­tralia, or Tibet might take over 40 days trav­el to reach. All of West­ern Europe is acces­si­ble, the map promis­es, with­in five days, as are parts of the east coast of the U.S., with parts fur­ther Mid­west tak­ing up to 10 days to reach.

What might have seemed like wiz­ardry to Wal­ter Raleigh prob­a­bly sounds like hell on earth to busi­ness class denizens every­where. How do these jour­neys com­pare to the cur­rent age of rapid air trav­el? Rome2rio, a “com­pre­hen­sive glob­al trip plan­ner,” aimed to find out by recre­at­ing Bartholomew’s map, updat­ed to 2016 stan­dards. You can see, just above (or expand­ed here), the same view of the world from its one­time impe­ri­al­ist cen­ter, Lon­don, with the same col­or-cod­ed leg­end below, “Dis­tances in Days from Lon­don.” And yet here, a jour­ney to most places will take less than a day, with cer­tain out­er reaches—Siberia, Green­land, the Arc­tic Cir­cle, stretch­ing into two, maybe three.

Should we have rea­son to com­plain, when those of us who do travel—or who must—have it so easy com­pared to the dan­ger, bore­dom, and gen­er­al unpleas­ant­ness of long-dis­tance trav­el even one-hun­dred years ago? The ques­tion pre­sumes humans are capa­ble of not com­plain­ing about trav­el. Such com­plaint may form the basis of an ancient lit­er­ary tra­di­tion, when heroes ven­tured over vast ter­rain, slay­ing mon­sters, solv­ing rid­dles, mak­ing friends, lovers, and ene­mies…. The epic dimen­sions of his­toric trav­el can seem quaint com­pared to the ster­ile tedi­um of air­port ter­mi­nals. But just maybe—as in those long sea and rail­way voy­ages that could span sev­er­al months—we can dis­cov­er a kind of romance amidst the queasy food courts, tacky gift shops, and motor­ized mov­ing walk­ways.

via  1843 Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Col­or­ful Map Visu­al­izes the Lex­i­cal Dis­tances Between Europe’s Lan­guages: 54 Lan­guages Spo­ken by 670 Mil­lion Peo­ple

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

The Roman Roads of Britain Visu­al­ized as a Sub­way Map

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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