A popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. and Canadian cities and towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the panoramic map. Known also as bird’s-eye views, perspective maps, panoramas, and aero views, panoramic maps are non-photographic representations of cities, portrayed as if viewed from above at an oblique angle. Although not generally drawn to scale, they show street patterns, individual buildings, and major landscape features in perspective.
Preparation of panoramic maps involved a vast amount of painstakingly detailed labor. For each project a frame or projection was developed, showing in perspective the pattern of streets. The artist then walked in the street, sketching buildings, trees, and other features to present a complete and accurate landscape as though seen from an elevation of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. These data were entered on the frame in his workroom.
The most successful print publisher in the nineteenth century was the firm of Currier & lves. Best remembered for their views of daily life in Victorian America, they also prepared bird’s-eye views of New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. However, they were not a leading panoramic mapmaking firm, and their distinctive views were primarily of large cities. Most post-Civil War panoramic maps were of parochial interest, highlighting small cities and towns, and were more detailed than the average Currier & lves’ city perspective. Famous panoramic artists included Albert Ruger, Thaddeus Fowler, and the brothers, O.H and H.H Bailey.
The urban areas in the Midwest and Eastern United States were of primary interest to panoramic map artists. Several of the artists began their careers in the Midwest, particularly in Madison, Wisconsin, and during the 1860s and 1870s a large number of panoramic maps of Midwestern cities and towns appeared. By the late 1870s the Madison group had dispersed. Ruger and Stoner remained in that city, but Bailey and Fowler moved eastward to virgin territory. The latter two and Lucien Burleigh made the Middle Atlantic and New England states the chief production center for bird’s-eye views during the 1880s and 1890s. It was in these areas, moreover, that the panoramic map business had its final flurry of activity in the 1920s.
In the Far West and the South panoramic maps never attained the popularity they achieved in the area north of the Mason-Dixon line, between Maine and Minnesota. Attempts to extend the industry to the South and the West were not particularly successful, although panoramic maps of a few cities in Alabama, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Colorado were produced. The South was economically unable to support views of their cities during Reconstruction, and northern canvassers probably would not have been welcome. More significantly, perhaps, the focal point of life in the South was the farm or plantation, not the village or town as in the Midwest and the Northeastern states.
Surviving panoramic maps are very popular today and command premium prices from map and print dealers. Facsimile reproductions of panoramic maps are likewise in demand. Panoramic maps give a pictorial record of Anglo-America’s cities during the post-Civil War period and for many localities, provide the sole nineteenth-century perspective of the community. No other graphic form of this era so effectively captured the vitality of America’s urban centers.
Thaddeus Fowler, born in Lowell, Massachusetts on December 21, 1842, started his drawing by making tintypes of soldiers during the Civil War. Throughout his career, which extended over 54 years, he never ceased to find pleasure in drawing panoramic maps. In a letter to his granddaughter in 1920, he said that he felt "an unadulterated joy" while sketching a view of Middletown, New York. This was the expression of a man who at the time had been working at his professional for fifty years!
Oakley Hoopes Bailey, another oustanding panoramic map artist, publisher and a close friend of Thaddeus Fowler, was born of Quaker parents June 14, 1843, in Mahoning County, Ohio. Bailey published panoramic maps of American cities until the late 1920s, first under the name bird’s-eye views and later as aero views.
Brother of O.H. Bailey, Howard Heston Bailey also drew panoramic views and was Oakley’s partner for many years. Equally as prolific as Bailey in publishing maps of Northeastern U.S. cities was Lucien R. Burleigh of Troy, New York. The most successful print publisher in the nineteenth century was the firm of Currier & lves.
Born in Prussia in 1829, Albert Ruger emigrated to the United States and worked initially as a mason. While serving with the Ohio Volunteers during the Civil War, he drew views of Union campsites, among them Camp Chase in Ohio and Stephenson's Depot in Virginia. He continued to draw after the war, and his prints include a famous lithograph of Lincoln’s funeral car passing the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.