A Handsome Atlas

Awesome atlases from the late nineteenth century, picked apart for your perusal.

That Will Be Chicago Dollars, Please


In 1864 the per-pound price of cotton was $Chicago, up from $0.10 in 1860. The fluctuation of cotton prices has always been a wild ride, but man, the Civil War sure did a number on the market.

And in case you’re curious, the incredibly-off-the-chart number for 1864 looks to be over $2/lb, but since it’s, you know, living somewhere in Illinois it’s hard to read. Highest number I can find is in the previously-linked piece that gives us $1.89.

Manufactures (Specific Cotton Goods) (1880)

Chinese in America

In 1848, there were only 325 Chinese immigrants in America. By 1880, there were 300,000, making up ten percent of the population of California!

This was mostly made possible by the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, which opened up immigration relations between China and America. Not without cause, either: 90% of the workforce for the Central Pacific Railroad was made up of Chinese immigrants.

Population distribution of U.S. by age and sex (1870)

Who Wants To Be A Thousandaire?

OK, let’s be frank here, I have no idea what retrospect means. My favorite part of this plate is the triple-overlapping bar graphs.

Finance and Commerce (True Valuation) (1880)

U.S. Almost-States: Sequoyah

Despite the fact that Oklahoma’s wedged between plenty of other states, it didn’t gain statehood until 1907. Before that? “Indian Territory.”

The US Government slowly pushed Native Americans into a smaller and smaller area - at first “providing” them all the land between Oregon and Missouri, then picking away bit by bit until left with modern-day Oklahoma. By 1890, they’d even split it down the middle, giving settlers the western half (Oklahoma Territory) and Native Americans the east.

In 1905 the inhabitants of Indian Territory applied for statehood as the State of Sequoyah. Teddy Roosevelt and Congress gave it the thumbs-down, admitting the combined Indian and Oklahoma Territories as the state of Oklahoma only a year or so later.

Occupations (Agriculture) (1870)

Treemaps and Bar Graphs Bear Child, Terrify Neighborhood

First, these are great because they look like fabric swatches for woolen socks.

Secondly, they look remarkably like treemaps but only operate in the horizontal dimension. Ends up for some super-skinny slices of Lutherans here and there, but at least it’s easy to see where the Methodists are out and about.

The inset-looking ones are where there aren’t enough spots in churches for everyone; bigger grey space, less able-to-worship-in-a-church the state is. Poor godless Nevada.

Church accommodations (1870)

You Can’t Lead a Swede to Water

Swedes and Norwegians, why no love for the coast? Industrial jobs and the prairie just wouldn’t have done it for me.

But for the Swedes, oh it sure did. By 1910, 20% of all Swedes had their homes in America.

Sweden was losing so much of its population to America that they freaked and created a parliamentary committee about it, which actually did something: universal male suffrage, more education, and plenty of other stuff aimed at combating class inequality.

And it worked! Swedish immigration all but stopped by the 1920’s. Sure, maybe WWI had something to do with it, but social programs are a more cheerful explanation.

Further reading: Swedish emigration to the United States [Wikipedia]

Foreign population (British, English & Welsh, Swedish & Norwegian) (1870)

Code Imitating Art

It’s all well and good to love visualizations from the past, but it’s another thing to bring them into the present. With the Ultimate Power of the Web! (and I’m not talking about A Handsome Atlas, either.)

That’s exactly what Jim Vallandingham did when he recreated a few Statistical Atlas charts using HTML and JavaScript (CoffeeScript + d3). It kills pretty hard, let’s be honest: he pulled off Church By State, Nationality By City, and Jobs By State. Go look at them now or you’re a bad person.

Run on over to check out his blog post on the process or his other data viz work.

Composition of church membership of the states and territories (1890)


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.

This is what I like to see!

(Source: datanouveau)

Lapping Bar Graphs

What at first glance seems like a normal bar graph is in fact the Regional High School Champion of Bar Graph City. The bars for Nevada and Arizona reach the rightmost end of the chart, turn around, and start going back to the left!

Nevada has so many farms it almost laps itself. I’ll say it doesn’t do a fantastic job conveying the exact number of farms, but it does get the point across of Nevada being the most awesome and Arizona being only slightly less awesome. Eat their shorts, unfolded-bar states.

Hopefully next up: pie charts that eat themselves, treemaps meet Venn diagrams, and line graphs that purposefully go outside of the chart. I promise you that last one exists somewhere in the 1880 atlas.

Industries [farms] (1890)

You Should Get That Growth Looked At

It’s a neat idea, the mean center of population. As the population in the West grows, the center-point of America’s population creeps away from the East coast.

Center of population at each Census: 1790 - 1890 (1890)