Mapmaking Milestones

“Even before you understand them, your brain is drawn to maps.”

~ Ken Jennings, record-setting Jeopardy! champion and author of
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

You may be a cartophile if…you have a strong attraction of, admiration for and interest in maps. I admit it, I love maps — their history and construction, their applications and usage, their meaning and mission, their artistry and beauty — and I want very much to share this passion with you! Maps are educational, entertaining, enlightening, engaging and enchanting. This page is a collection of various map-related history, information and trivia that I find interesting and valuable to a general understanding of maps and our interactions with them. You’ll see I’ve included links to map samples and others sites for further exploration. Enjoy!

Milestones in Mapmaking
There’s a Map for That
Why Maps Matter
Maps As Art



Long before humans invented words and writing, they communicated with graphical representations of their perception of the world around them — yes, they used maps! The history of mapmaking (formerly called cartography and defined as the production of maps, including construction of projections, design, compilation, drafting, and reproduction) goes back thousands of year. Simply put, the history of mapmaking is the history of humans — their settlement, expansion, exploration, migration, conquest and discovery of this planet we share. As long as there have been humans, there have been maps. And today, it seems, there are more maps available to us than ever before!

Below is very abbreviated list of some historical highlights. Click here for a visual tour (this will open a new window)

  1. 18,500 years ago — The very earliest map ever discovered is believed by some to depict primitive constellation charts, painted on cave walls in the Great Hall of Bulls in Lascaux, France.
  2. 14,000 years ago — A stone tablet is found in a cave in Abauntz, in the Navarra region of northern Spain. On it are carved what appears to be a depiction of the surrounding landscape, including mountains, rivers, and ponds. Some researchers believe this to be the oldest map discovered.
  3. 1150 BCE — The Turin Papyrus Map shows the location of various stone quarries and gold mines along the Nile and is considered to be the oldest surviving topographical map of interest from the ancient world.
  4. 700 BCE — The Babylonian Map of the World,  Imago Mundi, is carved onto a clay tablet. What’s especially interesting about this map is it even has a legend: a cuneiform text describing Babylonian mythology in the regions depicted on the stone.
  5. 150 CE — The Greek scholar Ptolemy publishes an 8-volume textbook of maps simply titled “Geography.” He introduces the concepts of latitude and longitude.
  6. 4th century CE — The Peutinger map is drawn on parchment by the Romans and one of the oldest known road maps ever found,
  7. 5th century — A map known today as The Vinland Map may have be created at this time. Believed to show Viking adventures to North America, its claim-to-fame is that it is the most controversial map in history; despite exhaustive analysis, it’s validity even today is not universally accepted.
  8. 400-1000 CE — Mapmakers in medieval Europe  create mappae mundi, or “maps of the world” (the word “map” is actually derived from the Latin word mappa,  which means”cloth” or “napkin”. Cartography, on the other hand, is derived from Greek words meaning “to write on cloth”).
  9. 1154 — The Islamic Tabula Rogeriana is a very early example of an illustrated map. Besides geography it also shows natural features, ethnic and cultural groups, socioeconomic conditions  and more.
  10. 1452 — Venetian cartographer Giovanni Leardo draws the Mappamundi (the oldest map in the collection of the American Geographical Society Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin).
  11. 1460 — Venetian monk Fra Mauro creates the most detailed and accurate (and circular) map of the globe, one that today stands as the greatest memorial of medieval cartography.
  12. 1500 — Spanish navigator and cartographer Juan de la Cosa paints a map which includes the New World for the first time. His map is the oldest known surviving map to depict the Americas. He was was captain and owner of the Santa Maria and an eyewitness of Columbus’s first voyage to the West Indies.
  13. 1507 — The Waldseemuller World Map b German cartographers Martin Waldseemuller and collaborator Matthias Ringmann is particularly famous for a couple of reasons: first, is the first map to label the Pacific Ocean and give the separate Western continents the names “America” (hence the map’s nickname, “America’s birth certificate”, shown above). Second, their map has the distinction of being the most expensive in history, purchased in 2003 by the Library of Congress (owner and curator of the most comprehensive collection of maps in the world) for a staggering $10 million!
  14. 1524 — a detailed map of the Aztec urban center of Tenochtitlan, Mexico is made to accompany eyewitness accounts by Hernan Cortez.
  15. 1569 — Italian cartographer Gerardus Mercator creates what we call the “Mercator Projection” and is the first to officially name North America.
  16. 1602 —  Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci creates a world map with China positioned at the center. It is the oldest surviving map in Chinese to show the Americas.
  17. 1686 — English astronomer Edmund Halley creates the first meteorological (weather) map of predominant ocean winds based on observations by himself and sailors, 
  18. 1784 — Abel Buell, an engraver from Connecticut, compiles, engraves and prints a landmark wall map of the early United States.
  19. 1789 — Captain Bligh, after being mutinied on the HMS Bounty, maps his 3,600 mile journey on the open sea to Timor.
  20. 1804-1806 — William Clark (traveling with Meriwether Lewis in the Corps of Discovery) maps a northwest route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean
  21. 1826 — Charles Dupin, a French mathematician and economist, creates the first chloropleth map (referred to as cartes teintées” or “color maps” in French) while plotting literacy by department in French schools.
  22. in an effort to depict literacy by Department in France. .
  23. 1815 —  English working class surveyor and amateur fossil hunter, William Smith, observed rock layers and fossils. This led him to create a map revealing the age and deposition of various rock layers, fundamentally and forever changing how we view the world. [Simon Winchester wrote a book about him, The Map That Changed the World (Simon & Schuster, 2009)].
  24. 1854 — British physician Dr. John Snow adds geographic layers to a paper map of individual cholera cases around London, in the process discovering that the disease was spread via water contamination (not air as previously believed). To this day, Dr. Snow is credited not only as the first to use spatial analysis as a problem-solving tool, but also as the “father of epidemiology.”
  25. 1872 — Chicagoans William Rand and Andrew McNally print their first railway map in the edition of its famous New Railway Guide Map of the United States & Canada.
  26. 1874-1877 — Henry Morgan Stanley is the first to map the River Congo and western equatorial Africa.
  27. 1900 — Andre Michelin publishes guides with maps, helping automobile-traveling tourists find dining, lodging and auto service.
  28. 1905 — The American Automobile Association (AAA) publishes it’s first road maps.
  29. 1917 — Rand McNally cartographer John Brink invents a system to number major highlways, on a map of Peoria, Illinois. The company also first publishes its Auto Trails Maps
  30. 1933 — Electrical draftsman Harry Beck publishes the first map of the London Underground (subway system). Beck’s map had a schematic style reminiscent of an electrical circuit.
  31. 1944 –The Top Secret maps (codenamed “Bigot”) used to plan and execute the invasions at Normandy Beach on D-Day of WWII were perhaps the most detailed and important of any military map ever made in history.. Click here to view it.
  32. 1956 — Geologist Marie Tharp creates a controversial and revolutionary map revealing presence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, thus proving the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics. In 1977, with the help of Bruce Heezen, she publishes the World Ocean Floor Map (beautifully handpainted by Heinrich Berann), the most accurate depiction of the world’s ocean floor at the time (and even today). [Hali Felt wrote a book about Tharp, called Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor  (Macmillan, 2013)]
  33. 1968 — Geographic Information System (GIS) is developed by Roger Tomlinson, the “father of GIS.” GIS allows individuals to visualize, analyze, question, and interpret data as a way to better understand relationships, trends and patterns. It is the dawn of a new era in modern mapmaking.
  34. 1972 — NASA launches the first civilian remote-sensing satellite, named Landsat
  35. 1973 — The United States Department of Defense creates the Global Positioning System (GPS)
  36. 2005 — GoogleMaps is founded by Australian Noel Gordon and the Dane Lars Rasmussen. GoogleEarth launches the same year.
  37. 2018Maps! by Scott makes it’s appearance.

Today, in this age of all things digital, Google Maps is the most-used navigational tool worldwide (the app is used by 70% of all mobile phone users). With Google having over 7,100 employees and contractors directly working in mapping (as of 2012, according to Wikipedia), Google Maps has certainly become the most powerful mapmaker in the world. Not only do they get us from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible, but they have set a most ambitious goal of  mapping the entire globe, right down to street level! But despite their omnipresence, they are by no means the only map out there (nor the most interesting). Fact is, there is quite literally a map for everything. Keep reading to see what I mean!




Below is a list I compiled of common — and not so common — map types in use (historically and modern-day). I think you’ll find that the more you learn about maps, the more you will see how widespread they are, and realize how vital they are to us in our everyday life. Plus, I think they’re just a lot of fun to look at!

How many of these map types below are you familiar with? Click on any of the links to view examples and explore more!

  • Aeronautical map — a road map for a pilot flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Commonly called an aeronautical chart. These maps use a complicated array of symbols and colors to identify things such as airports, control towers and obstructions, as well as topographic data.
  • Airport map — orients airline passengers to terminals, gates, shuttles, baggage claim, shops, lounges, restaurants and bars.
  • Artistic map or Panoramic map — a painterly and realistic approach to render landscapes in a wide-angle fashion, as it might appear from an airplane (mastered by Austrian painter Heinrich Berann,1915-1999)
  • Cadastral map — shows detailed information about property within a specific area, such as boundaries and ownership of land parcels.
  • Campus map — shows the layout of a college or university campus, identifying buildings, walkways, residence halls, roads, green areas, etc. by use of names, colors and numbers. These maps range from simple outlines to overhead planimetric to detailed 3D architectural-style depictions. These maps can apply to shopping malls, business parks and even zoos.
  • Cave map or Caving map — uses specialized icons and names to depict and identify passages and rooms, routes, formations, lakes and rivers, hazards, features, entries, elevations and distances and tours of caving routes. A related map shows the size and shape of a map system based on surveys and collected data.
  • Chloropleth map — a type of thematic map that uses color shading, gradients or patterns in proportion to the measurement of a statistical variable being displayed on the map.
  • Climatic map — shows distribution of climatic conditions based on long-term observations
  • Climbing map — shows establishing routes up rock faces, usually labeling with names, grades and notable hazards.
  • Conservation map — is used to represent a wide range of data concerning the natural world of plants or animals, such as migratory bird routes, species health, populations and distribution, vegetation reductions, wildfires, wetland destruction, etc.
  • Economic map or Resource map — shows the specific types of economic activity or natural resources present in an area
  • Election map or Electoral map — tracks and identifies wins and losses in regional, state and national elections, typically denoted in red (Republican) and blue (Democrat).
  • Fishing map —  shows water depths and features helpful in locating fish and fishing, including structures such as weed beds, channels, submerged timber, even hotspots.
  • Flight map or Route map — depicts the flight path of aircraft between cities and airports, or shipping lanes of maritime sailing and cargo ships between ports
  • Floor map or Floor Plan — sort of a map that outlines the size, shape and location of rooms, stairwells, elevators, entrances, exits, etc. in a home or other structure. Styles range from flat architectural drawings to elaborate 3D exploded views showing multiple floor levels.
  • Geographic map — shows position, scale and shape of landforms using data and cartographic projections
  • Geologic map — shows the distribution of materials at or near the Earth’s surface (ex: soils, bedrock, deposits)
  • Hardiness Zone map — identifies the regions of plant hardiness and growing conditions based on seasonal temperatures
  • Historical map or Antique map — usually drawn in the past, depicting a place or describing an event during a particular historical period. Check out David Rumsey’s online collection here.
  • Itinerary map — depicts the routes, stops, arrival and departure points, ports of call, destinations, etc. to outline a land-based or ocean trip
  • Illustrated map or Pictorial map — an artistic, personalized and often highly stylized (rather than technically accurate) depiction of a place using illustrations, images and text, sometimes with forced perspectives and often not to scale.
  • Journal map — a map, usually quickly sketched or painted, in a journal made while traveling, accompanied by handwritten notes or vignettes.
  • Landscape map or Garden Plan — birds-eye depiction of a garden or yard showing location, names and associations of trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables as well as structures, paths or walkways
  • Literary map or Fantasy map — 1) acknowledges the contributions of authors to a specific state or region and 2) depicts the the geographical settings, locations or worlds, real or imagined, in works of fiction or fantasy, typically printed on the book’s endpages. Well-known examples include 100 Acre WoodTreasure Island, Westeros, and Hogwarts. J.R.R. Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth is perhaps one of the most famous fantasy maps. Many Role Playing Games (RPG) and video games like Skyrim also use maps.
  • Lunar map — a topographic map of the lunar surface that locates features of interest, including Apollo landing sites and specific impact craters
  • Memory map or Personal map — an illustrated map that serves as a personalized visual record of a vacation, trip or similar experience. It is used to recollect a place and time of special meaning, for decorative purposes.
  • Mental map — a first-person perspective of an area and how a person interacts with it (example: the image you have of your neighborhood).
  • Migration map — visualization of the data collected from the movement of humans, birds, mammals, fish, insects, etc.
  • Military map — a type of topographic map used in wartime to identify ground features, extent of vegetative cover and population centers, locate opposing forces, aid in planning tactical operations, coordinate logistics for troops, tanks and aircraft, identify supply lines, etc.
  • Nautical map — a graphical representation of maritime areas and adjacent coastlines, currents, water depths and tide information, and potential hazards to sailors such as reefs, shoals and shipwrecks. More commonly referred to as a nautical chart.
  • Oceanic map — a type of relief map that depicts the landforms, elevations and plates beneath oceans and seas
  • Park map —  overhead layout showing information and features useful to park visitors, such as park boundaries, entrances, parking, restrooms, picnic areas, building, hiking trails, bodies of water, boat launches, elevation changes and major points of interest. The National Park Service have perhaps the best known (and best designed) examples of park maps, and this site has over 1,700 hi resolution maps available for free viewing or download.
  • Planimetric map or Line map — depicts surface features (such as roads, buildings, parks, bodies of water, bridges, etc), and the accurate distances between them regardless of elevation, as they would appear from overhead. GPS devices or GoogleMaps display data into this type of map.
  • Plat or Property map — shows the divisions and boundaries of a piece of land (such as a lot, subdivision, county or town), drawn to scale.
  • Political map — shows governmental boundaries of countries, states, nations, cities, villages, towns, counties, etc.
  • Physical map — typically shows similar information as a political map but overlays color shading to depict landmasses and bodies of water to depict the local terrain
  • Physiographic map (landforms)
  • Planetary Map — a detailed view, often made from a composite of hundreds or thousands of individual photos, of a planet, moon, the sun. Surface features may be identified and named. This type of map would also include our solar system, a galaxy, a nebula or even the universe.
  • Propaganda map or Persuasive map — created by rulers or leaders of nations with the intent to misinform, deceive or persuade the general populace to believe particular facts or message, to garner support for a cause or advance a specific agenda. Some are satiric in nature. Cornell University Library has a great online collection.
  • Rail map or Railroad map — outlines the network of tracks and routes of passenger and freight lines, canals and roads, stations and depots, and river crossings and mountain passages
  • Relief map or Terrain map — uses color shading to denote elevation, giving the illusion of 3D to a flat surface. Older maps often used hachure marks, short parallel lines drawn to represent slopes, grades or changes in elevation.
  • Resource map — shows the distribution of natural resources in a region, such as soil, forests, water, coal, minerals, etc.
  • Road map or Highway map — shows major and minor roads, highways and interstates, as well as airports, train and subway stations, cities and towns, gas stations and rest stops, and major parks and forests. Originally produced by oil companies and made available for free at filling stations nationwide to encourage people to explore the country by car. Almost always folded to a standard size suitable for storage in a glovebox.
  • Sky map or Celestial map — identifies and charts the location and movement of stars, planets, moons, nebulae, galaxies and other heavenly bodies
  • Story map — an interactive map on the web that combines narrative text with images and video to relate information or tell a story.
  • Thematic map — show a particular theme connected with a specific geographic area. They can portray physical, social, political, cultural, economic, sociological, agricultural, or any other aspects of a city, state, region, etc. A city map is a type of thematic map that enables quick and easy orientation in an urban space.
  • Topographic map — shows land features and elevation changes of a portion of a land surface using contour lines (lines connecting points of equal elevation) to depict position, relation, size, shape, and elevation.
  • Tourist map — shows local and regional businesses — such as restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, parks, municipal buildings — often found in city guides, tourist brochures, rest stops and visitor centers.
  • Trail map — uses color coding and symbols to identify trailheads and routes, land features, elevation changes, distances, campsites, picnic areas, points of interest, etc. A specialized kind of trail map (typically waterproof or laminated) may be used by boaters and paddlers for use on water trails, to locate public launches and entry points, islands and beaches, portages, rest areas and navigate around buoys and hazards. There are also specialized trail maps made specific to bicyclists, skiiers, horseback riders and off-road vehicles.
  • Transit map — often a color-coded schematic diagram to show routes of trams, trollies, trains, subways, ferries, metros, cable cars and buses. Click here to browse a great collection of transit maps.
  • Weather map — uses a set of stylized symbols and lines to identify various meterological events across a particular area at a particular point in time (such as fronts, storms, winds, precipitation, etc.) Weather maps can also plot lightning strikes, wind speeds, ocean currents, day/night cycles and much more.
  • Wedding map — orients family and guests to the location of the church, reception hall, hotels, restaurants and local places of interest for a wedding. Typically printed with or on the wedding invitation.



If you want to understand maps better (be it historical or modern), it is helpful to know some lingo. Here are the most common terms that every map enthusiast should know:

Cardinal Direction — the four primary directions of North, South, East and West
Boundary — a line that marks the limit or edge of one place and another, such as a state or country
Cartesian Coordinates — using an X and Y axis and their intersections to plot specific points on a map
Cartography — the making and studying of maps
Cartouche — the frame around the title of a map, historically ornate and scroll-like and displays the name of the map or mapmaker
Citation — place on a map (usually in a corner) that lists information crediting the mapmaker, as well as the year it was made, the source of the data, etc.
— written descriptions on a map or within it’s borders that discuss aspects of the subject matter.
Compass Rose
 — a circular figure (decorative or simple) that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions and their intermediate points. In early map designs it resembled a rose.
Contour Line — lines spaced close together or far apart to indicate land levels or elevation
—  the line or course on which something is pointing or facing.
 — The height of a point or an object above or below sea level. Also referred to as altitude or height.
Grid — the parallel intersecting lines and corresponding numbers that provide reference to specific points on a map.
— Also called a pictogram, it conveys meaning through a pictorial resemblance to a physical object.
Inset map — a smaller, usually simplified, map found inside the main map which shows the location of the main map in a larger scale.
Latitude — a horizontal line on a map indicating how far north or south a point is from the equator
Latitude — a horizontal line on a map indicating how far east or west a point is from the prime meridian.
Legend or Key — a guide to symbols, numbers and figures (usually with a brief description) appearing on a map.
Meridian — a line of longitude on a globe
Neatline — the edge of the map itself. It may be a single or double rule, a decorative edge or dashed border that encloses the map.
North Arrow — an arrow or similar symbol that indicates which part of the map faces North. Most, but not all, maps orient the map with North facing the top.
Orient — align or position relative to the points of a compass or other specified positions.
Relief — shading on a map to indicate dimensional changes in elevation (height and depth) 
 — a graphic device used to measure distance on a map. It looks like a little bar or ruler, with units marked equivalent to the map’s scale.
Spatial data
— information such as location, elevation, distance, etc. that establish and document the three dimensions of space
Survey — collecting information about the land by measuring its size and shape
Symbology — the use of symbols, icons and other graphic objects on a map to depict places or things in reality
Terra Incognita — the term meaning “unknown territory” used in exploration to denote any region unexplored or mapped
True North
— the direction to the Earth’s geographic North Pole
Voyaging Vehicles — the ships, cars, planes, trains, balloons and other conveyances depicted on a map
Winds and Wind Blowers or Faces
— often shown on maps from the 16th century, represented by cherubic faces blowing air. They are: Boreas (from the north), Eurus (from the east) Nouts (from the south) Zephyrus (from the west).





We live in a highly visual age, a time when people are creating, accessing and digesting visual data like never before in history. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Netflix, YouTube and countless websites offer us 24/7/365 access to photos, videos and graphics, influencing our lives and demanding our attention. So it’s no surprise that the popularity and useage of maps is off the charts. Maps are everywhere and everyone uses map. The world is wild, wacky and wonderful place, bewildering in complexity and mind-boggling in scale. Maps simplify information to help us understand the world a little better. They organize, prioritize, categorize and systematize data so that we may comprehend the incomprehensible.