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Early Map of Gilded Age America Which Shows the Transcontinental Railroad

Rare map of the  United States produced by the Colton firm of New York in 1874 and illustrates the rapid westward expansion that brought industry, technology, and connectivity to the country. Richly detailed to capture the increased cartographical knowledge of the era, this map highlights new features of the landscape like railroad lines, military forts, and settlements built around hubs of activity.  

A main feature of this map is the rich depiction of terrain. The territorial boundaries of the era are clearly defined, with a subtle pink color demarcating state lines. Some of these boundaries were well established, but others, mostly in the West around Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, are less rigid or reminiscent of modern state lines.

The emergence of new settlements, many of which sprouted alongside the growing rail network, is evident as numerous small cities are sprinkled across the West. One will also notice the inclusion of railways, a development that would define the national spirit in the Gilded Age. The tracks, which now span across the country, are illustrated to highlight the technological development of this period. Finally, the map utilizes new data gained from regional surveys to illustrate mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers which were now officially named and better charted.

At the bottom right of the map appears Cuba and the Bahamas, two notable islands within the perceived sphere of U.S. influence. The inclusion of these locations suggests the growing interest in the expansion of American power abroad, especially when one considers the detail provided. Cuba is richly illustrated with similar detail as that on the continent. The Bahamas do lack some of this detail, but all the islands are named so this lack of detail is possibly due to the limited development of the islands at this time. 

Another feature that makes this map unique is the insert of the world map seen in the left-hand corner. This insert, titled Map of the World Exhibiting the Principal Features of Commerce, Navigation etc., is a detailed overview of principal steamship routes around the world. Each route also notes the main commodity traded along it. Also within the inset is the recently refined Transatlantic Cable that ran between England and the United States. A symbol of the era's technological advancement, this cable allowed for massively increased communication between the Old and New Worlds. The inclusion of such a technological marvel highlights the scientific advancements and shrinking of global distances that came to define the Gilded Age in America.  

This map is a testament to the progress and expansion of the United States during the latter half of the 19th century. The portrayal of the U.S. as a rapidly developing country is shown through the territorial and geographical changes such as railroads, new place names, and additional western settlements scattered throughout. The map also provides information on the commercial and technological situation of the world through an overview of global steamship routes and trade goods. Overall, this is an excellent piece that illustrates the rapidly changing country and world of the late 1800s.


The map is quite rare on the market. 

OCLC notes 1 example (British Library).

Condition Description
Hand-colored state boundaries. Slight foxing as pictured. Minor toning throughout.
Cohen, Mapping the West. America’s Westward Movement 1524-1890.
Wheat Transmississippi 776, p 161.
Wheat Gold Region 255
Martin & Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, #43.
G.W. & C.B. Colton Biography

G. W. & C. B. Colton was a prominent family firm of mapmakers who were leaders in the American map trade in the nineteenth century. The business was founded by Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893) who bought copyrights to existing maps and oversaw their production. By the 1850s, their output had expanded to include original maps, guidebooks, atlases, and railroad maps. Joseph was succeeded by his sons, George Woolworth (1827-1901) and Charles B. Colton (1831-1916). The firm was renamed G. W. & C. B. Colton as a result. George is thought responsible for their best-known work, the General Atlas, originally published under that title in 1857. In 1898, the brothers merged their business and the firm became Colton, Ohman, & Co., which operated until 1901, when August R. Ohman took on the business alone and dropped the Colton name.