The old maps from the 19th century are probably the best graphs you can find. There are complete contrast to the aesthetics you find today. The yellowish paper, hand-drawn graphs, and deep, warm colors from the printing method provide a superb look. The effort also needed to make these graphs is always gratifying since I know it took time and planning to create each graph.
A new site, Handsome Atlas, shows the pages from the U.S. Census books from the late 19th century. The U.S. was emerging from the Civil War and the Census publications became more illustrious.
The first image is a chart on the political parties in the U.S. as it relates to presidential elections. The chart is confusing, but there are some redeeming characteristics. First, it adds substantial narrative alongside the graph. The narrative does not focus on explaining the graph, but instead is a true supplement to the entire story. The graph also utilizes branch or river-like sketching within the colored region to show small sub-movements within the political parties. This is just about lost in contemporary politics, but the two-party system of yore had substantial movements which could eventually replace an established party.
The second graph looks at how individuals occupy their time. It is a tree diagram showing the distribution of people in various industries and education by state. Older charts seem almost brazen in their willingness to simplify data for presentation. It is very useful to see a simple distribution of a few key industries in a single graph.
The third graph shows the rank and change-in-rank of state populations over time. It’s reminiscent of ladder, or slopegraphs, that are popular today. In a nice, but a little confusing, bit of minimalism, the nodes terminate if there is not a change in a state’s population rank.
On the topic of population, the last image is a graph showing the distribution of the population. The western frontier is clearly visible in the graph. The color is fantastic, a intended by-product of the printing style of the time. It is unfortunate inkjets can’t reproduce the same warmth.
It is also interesting to see statistics of, as the site puts it, your great-great grandfather. There is, of course, the dated, old-timey language like “idiots” and “lunacy” graphs, but there is also substantial attention paid to oats, tobacco, corn, and wheat—this was before the American industrial revolution. The western frontier is literally visible in the maps. Political issues are also clearly apparent as they are careful to label if Native Americans and other marginalized populations are included—since their individuality was dubious at the time. Immigration was more focused on the migration from upper-European nations—a distinction that wouldn’t be made today.