The History of Bird's Eye View Maps and the Mapmakers

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, perspective mapping became an established tradition in Europe. Maps of European towns from a viewpoint were created by Mathias Merian, George Braun, Franz Hogenberg, and others. Small in size, these early European town plans were typically included in atlases or geographical books. They typically portrayed important political or commercial hubs. The perspective was often low oblique, and names of streets were usually excluded. In other cases, the perspectives were purely theoretical, and different European towns may have been represented by a single pattern. These maps were produced by the process of steel or woodblock engraving, and many were subsequently hand-colored.

Before the American Civil War, the United States used a modified version of the Renaissance city view. Similar to their European forebears, these perspectives—typically of substantial cities—were created by drawing at low angles and occasionally even at ground level. Street designs were frequently vague. The creation of panoramic maps required a significant amount of meticulous work. A frame or projection that depicts the perspective street layout was created for each project. In order to present a complete and accurate scene, the artist collected any existing surveys and plat maps before walking through the streets and sketching buildings, trees, and other objects. Then, in his workroom, these sketches were posted on the frame.

These maps captured the imagination of the American people as air flight did not exist yet, and city views had only been available from hilltop locations. Also popular during this period were views of American cities drawn as though viewed from extremely great heights.

The panoramic maps of Victorian America are very different from the Renaissance city views. The town views from after the Civil War are more precise and are depicted from a higher vantage point. Both large cities and little communities were depicted. North America was the only region to map urban centers from above during this time. The majority of panoramic maps were released on their own, not as plates in atlases other geographically descriptive books. Civic pride and the desire of the city fathers to promote economic progress were the driving forces behind the creation and marketing of nineteenth-century panoramas. Chambers of commerce and other civic organizations created and supported numerous viewpoints that served as ads for a city’s potential as a business and residential hub. The artists would solicit subscribers, such as companies, schools, churches, and private dwellings, in order to cover the expense of creating the maps; these organizations’ buildings and residences would then be shown as insets on the maps.

In addition to depicting the city as it was, panoramic maps occasionally included indicated future development zones. The maps were used by real estate brokers and chambers of commerce to advertise sales to potential purchasers of residential and commercial properties.

A few thousand panoramic or “bird’s eye view” maps of American and Canadian cities and towns were created between the 1840s and 1920s, with Albert Ruger, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, Lucien R. Burleigh, Henry Wellge, Augustus Koch, and Oakley Hoopes Bailey producing the majority of them. The majority of the maps were created by these six artists.  More than half of the maps made were of towns and cities in the Northeastern United States.

There were very few maps made of the deep South – only 28 maps were done in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina combined. The South was financially unable to support views of their cities during Reconstruction, and northern artists 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 Midwestern and the Northeastern states.

The vivid, and even exaggerated, life of a city is graphically represented on these maps. Harbors are depicted as being clogged with ships, frequently to the point of creating navigational risks. In certain cases, trains and cars traveling in the opposite way share the same roadbed as trains speeding down railroad tracks. The streets are crowded with people and horse-drawn carriages, while industrial plant stacks are filled with smoke. The maps give a clear picture of the post-Civil War urban and industrial development in America.

Quite a few cities have had multiple maps drawn by different artists, some just a few years apart and from different perspectives.  Advances in lithography, photolithography, photoengraving, and chromolithography, which made possible inexpensive and multiple copies, along with prosperous communities willing to purchase prints, made these maps popular wall hangings during America’s Victorian Age. Commercially, panoramic maps were still popular as late as the 1920s, but with the invention of flight and aerial photography, this kind of map-making was quickly curtailed and rendered obsolete by 1930.

These maps give a pictorial record of America’s cities during the post-Civil War period and for many localities provide the sole nineteenth-century map. No other graphic form of this era so effectively captured the vitality of America’s urban centers.

The Artists

Albert Ruger (1829-1899)

Albert Ruger was the first to achieve success as a panoramic artist. The collections of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division contain 213 city maps drawn or published by Ruger or by Ruger & J. J. Stoner. The majority came from Ruger’s personal collection, which the Library purchased in 1941 from John Ramsey of Canton, Ohio. Before this accession, there were only four Ruger city plans in the Geography and Map Division. Born in Prussia in 1829, 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.

By 1866, Ruger had settled in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he began his prolific panoramic mapping career by sketching Michigan cities. Urban communities in some twenty-two states and Canada, ranging from New Hampshire to Minnesota and south to Georgia and Alabama, were sketched by Ruger. He continued his activity into the 1890s, moving his business to Chicago, Madison, and St. Louis as he sought new markets. In the late 1860s, Ruger formed a partnership with J. J. Stoner of Madison, Wisconsin, and together they published numerous city panoramas. Ruger was particularly productive during the 1860s; in 1869 alone, he produced more than sixty panoramic maps. In addition to city plans, he drew views of university campuses, among them Notre Dame, Shurtleff College, and the University of Michigan. Albert Ruger died in Akron, Ohio, on November 12, 1899.

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler (1842-1922)

T.M. Fowler was the most prolific of all the mapping artists and is responsible for 468 maps. He was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on December 21, 1842, and ran away from home at the age of fifteen. When the first call for military volunteers for the Civil War was issued by President Lincoln, Fowler was in Buffalo, New York. Although initially rejected because he was underage, after some maneuvering Fowler was sworn into the 21st Regiment of the New York Volunteers at Elmira, New York, in May 1861. He received an ankle wound at the Second Battle of Bull Run and was honorably discharged at Boston in February 1863, leaving the hospital on crutches after refusing amputation. He then visited army camps where he made tintypes of soldiers. In 1864, Fowler migrated to Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked with his uncle J. M. Fowler, a photographer. He established his own panoramic map firm and in 1870 produced a view of Omro, Wisconsin. This was followed the next year by panoramas of Peshtigo, Sheboygan Falls, and Waupaca, Wisconsin. During that decade, he was employed as an artist by J. J. Stoner. Fowler moved from Madison around 1880 to northern New Jersey, first to the Oranges and later to Asbury Park. Between 1881 and 1885, Fowler was located successively in Lewisburg and Shamokin, Pennsylvania, and in Trenton, New Jersey. On April 1, 1885, he moved with his family to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, where he maintained his headquarters for twenty-five years. One of the inconveniences of his profession was the recurring need to find new territory for his artistry.

Morrisville served as a convenient operating center as Fowler began to draw and publish views of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio cities. His production of Pennsylvania panoramas was greater than that of any other artist for a particular state. In the Library of Congress’s collections, there are 220 separate Fowler views of Pennsylvania, representing 199 different towns.

Throughout his career, which extended over fifty-four years, Thaddeus Fowler never ceased to find pleasure in drawing and publishing panoramic maps. He was in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1918, he recalled, preparing an aero view of the city, probably in association with Oakley H. Bailey. Airplanes and a dirigible circling the city were included in the trademark of the aero view to give the impression that some of the information was derived from aerial reconnaissance, which, of course, was not true. Some Allentown citizens noticed the view with the planes on the manuscript map.

An analysis of Fowler views of Pennsylvania towns suggests that the panoramic artist concentrated on a specific geographical area in a given year, very likely to minimize transportation problems. From 1889 to 1894, for example, he sketched cities in eastern Pennsylvania. In 1889, he focused on Schuykill County; from 1890 to 1892, he focused on the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area; and in 1893, he mapped the area north of Philadelphia. He made views of cities between Morrisville and Chambersburg in 1894, and from 1895 to 1897, he worked in the western part of the state, especially around Pittsburgh and in the northwest sector of Pennsylvania. In 1898 and 1899, Fowler sketched West Virginia towns, and from 1900 to 1903, he was back in western Pennsylvania. Subsequently, he made trips to Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia to draw city plans and to investigate the possibility of expanding his trade into the South, which proved unsuccessful.

Fowler died in March 1922 in his eightieth year, following a fall on icy streets incurred while preparing a panorama of Middletown, New York. Fowler’s career spanned the entire period of panoramic map production, and only Oakley H. Bailey shares this distinction.

Oakley Hoopes Bailey (1843-1947)

O.H. Bailey, another outstanding panoramic map artist and publisher and a close friend of Thaddeus Fowler, was born of Quaker parents June 14, 1843, in Mahoning County, Ohio. He enrolled in Mount Union College, Alliance, Ohio, in 1862. His studies were disrupted temporarily in 1864, while he served with the 143d Ohio Volunteer Militia, Company F, but he returned to school after his service obligation and graduated from Mount Union in 1866. He taught briefly in the area school system, but in 1866 he left Ohio and entered business with his brother H. H. Bailey and edited a business directory of Ohio. His territory reached as far as Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis. In 1871, he turned to the profession of making panoramic maps. Bailey’s career began in Madison, Wisconsin, but by 1874, he had moved to Boston. From headquarters there and in New York City, Bailey published panoramic maps of American cities until the late 1920s, first under the name “bird’s-eye views” and later as “aero views”. His brother, Howard Heston Bailey, who also drew views, was Oakley’s partner for many years.

O.H. Bailey drew 374 maps. A Bailey drawing of Atlantic City, measuring over seven feet in length, shows five or six miles of the famous boardwalk, myriad hotels, other buildings, and the ocean front. His maps were issued under the imprints of Oakley H. Bailey, Oakley H. Bailey & Co., O. H. Bailey & J. C. Hazen, Bailey & Fowler, Bailey & Hughes, Bailey & Moyer, Fowler & Bailey, and Hughes & Bailey. In the 1920s, the firm of Hughes & Cinquin produced panoramic maps under the sponsorship of Oakley H. Bailey, who had retired in 1927. Perhaps by that time Bailey’s eyesight had become too weak to permit him to continue the tedious, close work required of a panoramic artist. He died on August 13, 1947, in Alliance, Ohio, at the age of 104.

Lucien R. Burleigh (1853-1923)

Artist, lithographer and publisher Lucien Rinaldo Burleigh obtained a B.S. in civil engineering from the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science (now Worcester Polytechnic). He graduated in 1875, in the midst of economic depression, and perhaps due to lack of opportunities for engineers he walked away from his training and instead secured employment with a Milwaukee lithographing company, for whom he made bird’s eye view pencil sketches of villages and the smaller cities, to be copied on stone and printed.  Burleigh may have been the best educated of all of the American born view makers. His ancestry goes back to William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony. Equally as prolific as O.H. Bailey in publishing maps of northeastern U.S. cities, Burleigh is responsible for 228 maps. He didn’t travel far as the vast majority of his work is of cities and towns in New England, and almost half of his views are in New York State.  An 1883 Troy N. Y. city directory listed Burleigh as a civil engineer. By 1886, he had become a lithographer and view publisher, publishing under the name Burleigh Lithographing Company.  An advertisement in the 1886 city directory said that the firm, at 86 Congress Street, did fine work in all branches of engraving and printing, with views of buildings and villages a specialty. Burleigh published panoramic maps as late as 1892, but his most productive years were from 1885 to 1890.  While many of the bird’s eye view artists have similar styles and approaches to their perspective techniques, one consistently recognizable characteristic of Burleigh’s work is his clouds, which are all very two-dimensional for the most part.

Henry Wellge (1850-1917)

Henry Wellge originally hailed from Germany and served as a former captain in the Russian army engineer corps. After immigrating to the United States, he eventually settled in Milwaukee to become one of the most prolific view artists of his time, producing 152 bird’s eye view maps in his three-decade career that begin circa 1878. During this time, he crisscrossed Canada and the U.S. and produced maps in 27 states and territories.  He also produced his well-known 1906 bird’s eye view of Mexico City. His views of southern and Midwestern cities during the decade of 1880 are particularly interesting, as many artists ceased working at this time.  He is one of the few panoramic artists to draw cities in the southern states including Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.  He’s also one of the few artists to venture out of the cityscape category, and produced his spectacular view of Yellowstone National Park in 1904.  During his career, he formed a business partnership with artist George Norris and later ran his own publishing company under the name Henry Wellge and Co., with an imprint called the American Publishing Company.

Eli S. Glover (1844-1920)

Eli Sheldon Glover began his career in bird’s-eye view maps as a subscription agent for, and assistant to, Albert Ruger, a prolific mapmaker of over 250 prints. As a former employee of a printing firm with a follow-up stint as a teacher, he also pursued a commercial course in drawing and painting. Glover later became an apprentice to Ruger. In 1868, Glover established his own firm, the Merchants Lithographic Company in Chicago, which served as publisher and/or printer to many panoramic views, including those of Albert Ruger. Following the destruction of his printing business in the Chicago Fire of 1871, he began his own career as a traveling artist for maps. He produced 62 bird’s-eye maps, including many Michigan views. Upon moving to Salt Lake City in 1874, he traveled the western regions of the country, drawing bird’s-eye views for various cities in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Washington state, including Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Port Townsend, Walla Walla, and also Victoria and Vancouver, Canada.  Glover was also an inventor and Later in his career, he designed and manufactured a prospector’s drill for use in Alaska. 

Augustus Koch (1840-1899)

Augustus Koch was born in Birnbaum, Prussia in 1834, and after the 1848 Democratic Revolution and blacklisting by the German secret police, he fled to England. Eventually making his way to America, he served in the Civil War for the Union Army drawing maps of the army’s advance. He was discharged in 1865, perhaps because of a case of malaria, and embarked on what was to prove a successful career in cartography in 1868. Koch’s first views were published circa 1868 by J.J. Stoner, with whom he worked until 1873. Merchants Lithographic Company in Chicago printed his first two city views. Koch traveled to over twenty-three states producing bird’s eye views of cities from Jacksonville, Florida, to Los Angeles, creating some 112 maps and most of his view are of cities and towns in the Midwest, including 19 in Texas, and 30 in Nebraska.

The 1870’s and 80’s were productive for him, but sadly, his health began to fail in the mid-1890’s. He died of Bright’s Disease in Los Angeles on Christmas Day, 1899 at the age of fifty-nine.

Parsons & Atwater (Currier & Ives)

Artist Charles Parsons (1821-1910) came to America from England at the age of 9, eventually teaming up with Lyman W. Atwater (1835–1891) and produced close to 40 views around the 1870’s and 1880’s, many of them published by lithographers Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives. They focused mainly on the largest U.S. cities and are most famous for their many expansive views of New York City and the Brooklyn bridge, as well as views of Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, St Louis, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. One of their most popular views is the extraordinary aerial panorama of New York Harbor and its surroundings, a multitude of sailing ships and steamboats swarm in the waterways from the tip of Manhattan to the Narrows, then extending beyond to the Atlantic Ocean.

John Bachmann, Sr. (1814–1896)

John Bachmann was a Swiss-born lithographer and artist best known for his bird’s-eye views, especially of New York City. He was a journeyman lithographic artist in Switzerland and Paris until 1847. His first known American print appeared in 1848, a view from an imagined point above Union Square in New York, looking south toward The Battery. In 1849 and 1850, he created and published a series of American views, including views of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Havana. Both directly copied and used as a primary source by other lithographers at home and in Europe, these were the first major bird’s eye views (drawn from an imagined perspective), as opposed to panoramic views (views drawn directly from the artists experience) in the United States.

Although best known for his views of New York, his name is attached to a variety of prints, including the well-known “Bird’s Eye View of the Seat of War” series produced during the American Civil War, which show the theater of war in six sections, each a perspective view of entire states or sets of states.

Except for two brief sojourns in Philadelphia, he appears to have remained in the Heights neighborhood of Jersey City from the late 1850s until his death in 1896. Most of his views of New York City manage to sneak in his home neighborhood in Jersey City. His last known work, a view of Havana, is now in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Richard Rummell (1848-1924)

Richard Rummell was an American artist active in Brooklyn during the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in Canada, the son of German immigrant Frank X. Rummell and his wife Eliza Rummell. He immigrated to the United States as a youth settling with his parents in Buffalo.  One of his earlier works is an 1897 view of New York City. At the turn of the 20th century, W. T. Littig & Company lithographers commissioned the accomplished artist Richard Rummell (1848-1924) to create watercolors of some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges including the Ivy League schools.  Between 1904 and 1918 close to 40 college views were produced.  From these watercolors, copper-plates were engraved and a limited number of engravings were distributed.  Unlike other college views of the period, the Rummell plates are glorious panoramic views of the entire campus. Art historians speculate that since the views appear to be drawn from an altitude of about 300 ft., it is possible the artist worked from a balloon.  One of his latter works was a spectacular panoramic view of lower Manhattan in 1914.  W.T. Littig employed other artists to produce campus views whose styles were almost identical to Rummell’s, including H. D. Nichols and Arthur J. Elder. 

Kuchel & Dresel

Charles Kuchel was born in Zweibrucken, Germany in 1920 and immigrated to America in the 1840’s. By he 1853 had moved to San Francisco, where he became a partner with Emil Dresel in a lithography firm that specialized in views of California cities and mining towns. Dresel had worked as an architect in Wiesbaden, Germany before joining the Gold Rush in 1849. He sketched throughout Northern California and Oregon in the 1850’s and the partnership produced lithographs made from his sketches.  Together they produced “Kuchel & Dresel’s California Views” which included about 50 of the important cities and mining towns, with a few of Oregon and Washington.  The work was issued during 1855-1858, just prior to the great California Gold Rush of 1849, and as such it is a remarkable and important historical record of the times.  They were sometimes published by a local merchant or bookseller. Many of them were framed by a border of views of important buildings, businesses, residences, ranches, and mines in and about the town portrayed.  Many of their works were published by San Francisco lithographers Joseph Britton & Jacques Joseph Rey.

George E. Norris (1855-1926)

George Norris was another of the more prolific makers of bird’s-eye views in the late 19th century. He began his career working first with Albert Poole, followed by a collaboration with Henry Wellge. He then set up his own firm, through which he drew and published his own views for the next decade, and in all was involved with producing at least 135 views over a fifteen-year career (1883-1897).  More than half of these covered northern New England, including 40 views of New Hampshire towns, 22 for Maine and 12 for Vermont.  Despite his immense output, it seems that he could not make a financial success of the business, and in the late 1890’s he abandoned view making and became a hotelier in Brockton, Mass.

Edward Sachse (1804-1873)

Edward Sachse was born in Gorlitz, Germany and was trained as an artist in his home city where he operated a lithography and publishing company until the 1840s. In November 1848 he immigrated to the United States and settled in Baltimore, where he began the E. Sachse & Co. in Baltimore, Maryland and published prints of regional sights and cities. His works include a 12 sheet aerial view of Baltimore that employed several artists over a three year period. The firm also produced a four sheet rendition of Syracuse. Prints of Washington D.C. include several versions of the Capitol building before and after the dome was finished, and a version of the Washington Monument that was planned but never built.  He also produced a series of views of the American Civil War military encampments and hospitals in Baltimore and Washington, DC. They were sold relatively cheaply to soldiers who would sometimes mark their tents on the maps and send them home. Sachse issued revised editions when the units at the camps and setups changed.

Edwin Whitefield 1816-1892

Edwin Whitefield Pennie was born in 1816 in East Lulworth, Dorset, England and arrived in the United States around 1837 as a self-trained landscape artist.  Until 1853 he traveled from town to town along New York’s Hudson River, soliciting commissions for his sketches of landscapes and residences and producing flower lithographs for book illustrations. His commissions were supplemented by stints at teaching drawing. He was best known for his for a number of illustrated books on colonial homes in New England. During this time he published city views of such locales as Albany, Boston, Brooklyn, Niagara, Philadelphia, and Salem.

Herman Brosius 1851 – 1917

Herman Brosius was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he began his career as a wood carver for Matthews Brothers Furniture Company and started producing bird’s eye view maps in 1871. Beginning with his map of Darlington, Wisconsin, he had produced close to 60 maps by 1895 in Wisconsin, Canada, Virginia, New York, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

Rene Cinquin 1898 – 1978

The last of the bird’s eye view artists was Rene Cinquin, whose “Aero-View” maps of towns in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey between 1924 and 1929 for the most part represent the end of bird’s eye view mapping as an art, giving way to aerial photography. Featured in most of Cinquin’s maps are a substantial number of very detailed illustrations of businesses, homes, factories, and churches that are inset around the borders of the maps. A unique feature of his maps are the “aeroplanes” – biplanes that are seen in the skies above the cities. His later years were spent back in France as an impressionist painter.

The Early European Artists

Braun and Hogenberg

The American bird’s eye view artists were highly influenced by Georg Braun (1541-1622), a German viewmaker and typesetter, and Franz Hogenberg (1535-1590), a Flemish engraver.  Together they produced Civitates Orbis Terrarum, a six-volume city atlas containing around 546 views between 1572 and 1617 of major European cities, including Barcelona, Bologna, Brixen, Brussels, Chios, Danzig, Hamburg, Helsingborg, Innsbruck, Istanbul (Constantinople), Cologne, Leiden, Liege, London, Luxembourg, Milan, Moscow, Nuremberg, Ostia, Paris, Pozzuoli, Prague-Eger, Rome, Rotterdam, Seville, Stockholm, Tivoli, Trento, Utrecht, Venice, Weimar, Wroclaw, and Zurich. It also included some illustrations of places in Asia, Africa, and Latin America including Aden, Alexandria, Cuzco, Casablanca, Jerusalem, and Cairo.  It is considered the greatest atlas of city views ever made. It included some of the earliest views available and was an important guide to understanding the world in the 16th century.

Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677

Another European pioneer of great influence on bird’s eye view and panoramic maps artists, Bohemian graphic artist Wenceslaus Hollar followed Braun and Hogenberg in time and was one of the best and most prolific artists of his time. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia and spending most of his life in England, his work includes some 400 drawings and 3000 etchings. Hollar produced a variety of works and his plates number some 2740, and include views, portraits, ships, religious subjects, heraldic subjects, and landscapes throughout Europe.

Matthaus Merian 1593-1650

Born in Basel, Switzerland and trained in engraving in Zurich, draughtsman and engraver Mathaus Merian was the father of engraver Matthäus the Younger, and of the painter, engraver, and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian’s best-known works are detailed town maps and panoramic views throughout Europe which, due to their accuracy and artistry, form a valuable record of European urban life in the first half of the sixteenth century.

Other Panoramic Artists

Among other noteworthy panoramic map artists were James T. Palmatary, Camille Drie, Albert E. Poole, and George H. Walker – who was also a successful publisher of atlases and maps.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop

    Search Products...

    The results below are a partial list of maps, for a full listing please visit Shop by State or Shop by Country.