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Chicago International Map Fair 2016

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Neatline Maps is headed to the Chicago International Map Fair this weekend. It is somewhat of a homecoming as I lived in the great city — America’s architectural gem — for over 8 years.

One of the things we like so much about maps is that they are often linked to broad historical processes and themes. These can be large and sweeping like discovery and colonization, or small, like the gradual reshaping of a neighborhood or even a specific building. They can be momentous, like the birth of a nation, or minor, like the creation of a new hiking trail.

Chicago is a city of transformation, one that reverses the course of rivers, creates new industries, reinvents itself. I had a favorite spot on the corner of La Salle & Quincy.  Look to your right and you see the marvelous Rookery Building, completed by Burnham and Root in 1888. At 181 feet, it was one of the tallest buildings in Chicago at the time and is its oldest standing high-rise.

Look to your left and you see the new tallest building in Chicago, Sears Tower, completed in 1973. A mere 85 years has pushed our notion of vertical space over one thousand feet up, from 12 stories to 108 stories.

The Rookery was built during the Gilded Age, a period in the late 19th century of rapid economic growth, industrialization, and broad changes in American society. As C. Wolmar notes in The Great Railroad Revolution, this included a major expansion in the American railway network; in the East as part of a growing economic infrastructure and in the West to encourage settlement.

This context helps us understand the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railway map attached below. Designed to promote travel, its bold routes highlight the connectivity of the growing network. A vignette to the left of the map shows “One of the World Famous Dining Cars,” reflecting mid-to-late 19th century efforts to make train travel more comfortable; changes most commonly associated with the innovations of George Pullman, whose career began in Chicago.

Hope to see you at the fair!

Wolmar, Christian. The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America. New York: PublicAffairs, 2012.