The Strikingly Beautiful Maps & Charts That Fired the Imagination of Students in the 1880s

We all remem­ber the world maps that hung on the walls of our class­rooms, the ones at which we spent count­less hours star­ing when we could­n’t focus on the les­son at hand. Did we look at them and imag­ine flee­ing school for one of the far-off lands they pic­tured — or indeed find­ing a way to escape plan­et Earth itself? Such time-pass­ing fan­tasies unite school­child­ren of all eras, though some eras have pro­vid­ed their school­child­ren rich­er mate­r­i­al to fire up their imag­i­na­tions than oth­ers.

Take, for instance, the rich, vivid maps of Yag­gy’s Geo­graph­i­cal Study, which depict not just the world but the cos­mos, and which were first pro­duced for class­rooms in 1887. The epony­mous Levi Wal­ter Yag­gy, says Boston Rare Maps, “seems to have viewed him­self as an inno­va­tor and entre­pre­neur tap­ping into a trans­for­ma­tion­al moment in Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion.”

An adver­tise­ment for Yag­gy’s Chica­go-based West­ern Pub­lish­ing House lays out the com­pa­ny’s mis­sion: “Instead of offer­ing the pub­lic old things ‘made over,’ it has come to the help of teach­ers and schools with a series of appli­ances which in design, mech­a­nism and man­ner of illus­tra­tion, are new, ele­gant and prac­ti­cal.

It also points to “the enthu­si­asm which has been aroused in edu­ca­tion­al cir­cles by this new depar­ture” as “proof of the fact that teach­ers are tired of stereo­typed and worn-out means of school-room illus­tra­tion.”

One can well imag­ine the enthu­si­asm aroused among school­child­ren of the late 19th cen­tu­ry when the teacher brought out Yag­gy’s Geo­graph­i­cal Study, a ply­wood box filled with col­or­ful, large-for­mat maps mea­sur­ing rough­ly two by three feet that revealed a wealth of knowl­edge about the Earth and out­er space.

The David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion has dig­i­tized and made avail­able to down­load every­thing that came inside, includ­ing the cross-sec­tion of the geo­log­i­cal stra­ta of “pre-Adamite Earth”; the illus­tra­tion of the civ­i­liza­tions of five cli­mat­ic zones “Show­ing in a Graph­ic Man­ner the Cli­mates, Peo­ples, Indus­tries & Pro­duc­tions of The Earth”; the 3D relief map of the Unit­ed States built into the back of the box; and the jew­el in the crown of Yag­gy’s Geo­graph­i­cal Study, the star chart.

The star chart, as Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Greg Miller describes it, “has five pan­els held in place by tiny met­al latch­es. Each pan­el can be opened to reveal a more detailed dia­gram. One shows the phas­es of the moon, for exam­ple, while anoth­er includes a slid­er to illus­trate how the posi­tion of the sun changes rel­a­tive to Earth with the sea­sons,” the whole thing “designed to high­light cer­tain fea­tures when a bright light is placed behind it.”

Despite dis­play­ing here and there what we now regard as sci­en­tif­ic inac­cu­ra­cies (Miller points to how the ellip­ti­cal orbit of plan­ets are shown as cir­cles) and unfash­ion­able social atti­tudes, Yag­gy’s Geo­graph­i­cal Study also embod­ies the spir­it of its time in a way that still fires up the imag­i­na­tion. The gold­en age of explo­ration had already entered its final chap­ter and space trav­el remained the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion (a genre that had only recent­ly tak­en the form in which we know it today), but with maps like these on the wall, no day­dream­ing stu­dent of the 1880s could doubt that real­i­ty still offered much to dis­cov­er.

via Flash­bak

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

A Plan­e­tary Per­spec­tive: Tril­lions of Pic­tures of the Earth Avail­able Through Google Earth Engine

3D Map of Uni­verse Cap­tures 43,000 Galax­ies

A Mas­sive, Knit­ted Tapes­try of the Galaxy: Soft­ware Engi­neer Hacks a Knit­ting Machine & Cre­ates a Star Map Fea­tur­ing 88 Con­stel­la­tions

How Leonar­do da Vin­ci Drew an Accu­rate Satel­lite Map of an Ital­ian City (1502)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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