Bird's Eye View Maps

Bird's Eye View Maps

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Katie Steuernagle
Aug 18, 2010

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a particular style of map, known as panoramic or bird's eye view, came into popularity in the U.S. They were hand-drawn, not necessarily to scale, from a perspective that appeared as if the artist was standing on a mountain overlooking a town. The wonderful thing about these maps is not what they tell us about geography, but what they tell us about everyday life a hundred years ago.

Artists often added details like government buildings, schools, residences of prominent citizens (who paid to have their homes included), grocers, shoe stores, florists, flour mills, ice factories, carriage manufacturers, and gas works with a key at the bottom to show locations. We think these maps would not only look gorgeous on a wall and but would be an awesome way to spark your child's interest in history. And what's really great is that most of these maps are in the public domain.

The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of panoramic maps in computer-crashing resolutions, and you can download them for free or order prints. Search by geographic location to see what your hometown looked like a hundred years ago. If you don't see your town listed, try a Google search for "birds eye view map" and your city's name. Many university libraries have online collections you can view, and there are also lots available at wikimedia commons.

Map pictured above:
Portland, 1890 via Library of Congress

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