Of Maps and Men: or Vigorous and Lusty Minnesota

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The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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Of Maps and Men: or Vigorous and Lusty Minnesota

By: admin | 150 Best Minnesota Books | September 23, 2008


The overwhelming response to our last post, admittedly one of the least significant of the best Minnesota books, makes me a little nervous about nominating one of the most significant books on our list.

A. T. Andreas. An Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota. Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1874.

Anyone remember door-to-door salesmen? Fuller brush men? Me neither. Musta been before my time. But in 1873 salesmen covered Minnesota like locusts, hawking a landmark publication: the first illustrated atlas of any state. These salesmen were not only looking for subscriptions to the forthcoming book but also appealing to their client's vanity. They pushed subscribers to immortalize themselves by paying extra to have everything included in the book, from their portraits and biographies (at 2 1/2 cents per word), to images of their cows, to prosperous farms and businesses. While the salesmen were doing their work, a crew of surveyors were scouring the U. S. Land Offices consulting the work done out in the field and drawing their own maps. Andreas had chosen Minnesota for his bold experiment and departure from other map publications because we were prosperous, in spite of our youth, and Minnesota was cartographic virgin territory. For a detailed discussion of Andreas's business model and methods see an 1879 article, in the MHS library, by Bates Harrington titled "How 'tis Done: A Thorough Ventilation of the Numerous Schemes Conducted by Wandering Canvassers Together With the Various Advertising Dodges for the Swindling of the Public."



The result was a beautiful oversize volume of maps showing all the counties and significant towns, along with one map of the northern third of Minnesota that is virtually empty. A map librarian at the Library of Congress wrote that within the Andreas "... is an unexcelled historical, biographical, and pictorial record of Midwestern America in the vigorous and lusty Victorian era." About 10,000 subscribers paid $15 for the atlas but because of the panic of 1873 many reneged on their promise. The text, which includes W. W. Clayton's "History of the State of Minnesota," was not especially new or interesting, but that wasn't why people looked at the book. Some "deluxe" copies were sold with three panoramic or "bird's eye" maps of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Winona. (Collectors note: don't settle for a copy without these stunningly beautiful panoramas.) Andreas showed the world a 16-year-old state in all its splendor; what an impact this must have made on the Minnesota psyche. We know from early letters that many people who had come early to this state were unsure they had made a good decision. This one book, the Andreas Atlas, must have at least temporarily eliminated this lingering inferiority complex. There could be no doubt that we were on the map to stay.