An Early Map of the Old Northwest Territory
Finely colored example of the second state of Vandermaelen's highly detailed map of the Upper Mississippi and Upper Missouri River areas, from Vandermaelen's Atlas Universel, the first atlas to systematically map the world in uniform scale.
The map provides a remarkably detailed early look at the Upper Mississippi and Upper Missouri during a period where the region is mostly being explored by fur traders. The map is a testament to the phenomenal effort Vandermaelen undertook to compile contemporary and highly detailed, the most detailed regional maps of the regions to appear in an atlas. Cartographically, the atlas is a magnificent highly detailed work, pulling together the best information for indigenous sources. This first large format map ever produced for this region. Includes extensive notes throughout the map. Extends south to Dubuque, west to the Gr. Sioux & Yellowood Rivers & east to Lake Winnebago.
This would seem to be the second of three states of the map, with this edition having substantially more topographical detail than the first edition and a number of additional annotations, although the basic geographical details and place names are largely unchanged.
- First State: /gallery/detail/21661
- Second State: /gallery/enlarge/45855
- Third State: /gallery/detail/36478
One of the most detailed and also least studied maps of this region from the period.
Philippe Marie Vandermaelen (1795-1869) was a Belgian cartographer and geographer known for his pioneering use of technology and his leadership in establishing the important Establissement geographique de Bruxelles. Born in Brussels, Philippe was obsessed with maps from a young age. He taught himself mathematics, astronomy, and mapmaking and plotted the battles of the Napoleonic wars avidly. He took over his father’s soapmaking business briefly in 1816, but then turned it over to his brother in favor of cartography.
From 1825 to 1827, he released his first atlas, the Atlas universal, which was well received. It was sold in forty installments of ten maps each, with 810 subscribers listed. The atlas contained 387 maps in six volumes at a uniform scale of 1:1.6 million. The maps were intended to be joined and together would create a globe 7.755 meters wide. It was the first atlas to show the entire world on a large uniform scale and was the first atlas produced using lithography. This project served as Vandermaelen’s gateway into intellectual life, gaining him membership in the Royal Academy of Sciences and Belles-Lettres of Brussels (1829).
In 1830, Vandermaelen inherited a laundry from his parents which he converted into the Establissement geographique de Bruxelles, or the Brussels Geographical Establishment. His brother, Jean-Francois, also established a botanical garden on the site. The Establishment had its own lithographic press, one of the first to use the technology for cartography and the first in Belgium. They produced textbooks, surveys, and especially maps of Brussels to be used for urban planning. The complex also housed schools, an ethnographic museum, and a library open to the public. Vandermaelen was passionate about geographic education and saw the Establishment as an open place where people could learn about the world.
In 1836, he was knighted for his services to geography and the intellectual community of Belgium. He died at age 73 in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, near the Geographical Establishment that he founded. After Vandermaelen’s death, the Geographical Establishment declined, closing its doors in 1880. The extraordinary collection they had amassed passed to several institutions, most importantly the Royal Library of Belgium.