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September 23, 2008

Of Maps and Men: or Vigorous and Lusty Minnesota

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Pat Coleman @ 2:00 pm

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.

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9 Responses to “Of Maps and Men: or Vigorous and Lusty Minnesota”

  1. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Johnny Nicholson just called to remind me that Mary Bakeman published “A Comprehensive Index to A. T. Andreas’ Illustrated Historical Atlas of Minnesota, 1874″ in 1992. I believe it is still available through her Park Genealogical Books business. This is an important reminder because if you are looking for a specific name, either on a map or in one of the portraits, the original book is useless.

  2. Mike Hazard Says:

    The map is not the territory.

  3. Joe Sitter Says:

    Pat, the panoramas you mention are worth a close inspection. Here is website that is a treasure trove of maps with high resolution zoomable images of these and the title page you show.


  4. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Thanks Joe. The birds eye views are lovely. I was asked the other night how many of the 10,000 copies had the panoramas in them. I believe the answer is 300. Not a very high percentage.

  5. Mary Bakeman Says:

    My very favorite book! While I love the maps and the scenes, there is also a goldmine of genealogical information. The patrons’ directory provides immigration information (where from and the year), often down to the village or county and not just country. My only regret is that he included only the patrons. Still a glorious volume and very deserving of your list.

    Patrick Coleman reply on February 12th, 2009:

    You have such good taste Mary.
    I should mention that the map exhibit that is opening at the MHS on Feb 28 will have an Andreas Atlas out for people to peruse. It is unusual for an exhibit to have something that people can touch but this seemed too fun and too important to hide under glass. Tell your friends not to miss it.

  6. Barry Van Kleeck Says:

    I have an original copy hard-bound (large) of this atlas left to me by my father. My grandfather actually purchased it back in the 60’s at a garage sale. It is in fair condition and yes it is full of historical information from the time. (1870-74) The binding has seen better days, but all the pages are intact and well preserved. It is a treasure.

  7. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Lucky you! Be sure to check to see if it is one of the few copies with the three birds eye views.

    Barry Van Kleeck reply on November 17th, 2009:

    I am not sure what you mean, however it has the ariel plat maps on two pages of each of these cities. It also has plat maps of all the large cities as well as pictures of buildings, businesses, farms, original homsteaders, individuals of governement, and other prominent citizens. It also has a wealth of information on early history such as what is described as the “indian massacre of 1862″ when the Shakopee souix were delayed for moths in recieving their government allotment money and began an the uprising which resulted in many being banished to reservations in Mo.

An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs