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Review of A Directory of Cartographic Inventors: Clever People Awarded a US Patent for a Map-Related Device or Method

By Mark Monmonier, Adrienne Lee Atterberry, Kayla Fermin, Gabrielle E. Marzolf, and Madeleine Hamlin

Bar Scale Press, 2018

163 pages, $7, softcover.

ISBN: 978-1-985690-22-6

Review by: Trudy Suchan

A Directory of Cartographic Inventors: Clever People Awarded a US Patent for a Map-Related Device or Method

A Directory of Cartographic Inventors provides biographical information about the cartographic patentees featured in Mark Monmonier’s recently published Patents and Cartographic Inventions: A New Perspective for Map History (reviewed last year in Cartographic Perspectives 90). The Directory is a resource that brings together and preserves much of the biographical research that underpinned, but did not make it into, Patents and Cartographic Inventions.

Where Patents and Cartographic Inventions is organized thematically around the inventions, A Directory of Cartographic Inventors is a straight-up reference book with 31 biographies in alphabetical order. All but two of the patentees featured in the Directory’s main section appear in Patents and Cartographic Inventions, as do all but three of the twenty-four additional inventors more briefly discussed at the back of the book.

The Directory covers a roughly two-hundred-year period between 1789 and 1995, from the birth of Silas Cornell (whose globe was patented in 1845) to the death of F. Webster McBryde (who patented his McBryde map projection in 1977).

The inventors profiled made their livings many ways but a few groupings emerge. Among the patentees that fit our contemporary definition of geographer are Henry de Beaumont, founder of the Geographic Society of Geneva and holder of a patent for a world projection. F. Webster McBryde was on the geography faculty at Ohio State University, served as a senior geographer in military intelligence at the War Department during World War II, and founded the American Society for Geographical Research. Alphons van der Grinten’s patented map projection gained fame once the National Geographic Society took it up, albeit after his death. The number of educators and engineers who filed cartographic patents is also notable. Ellen Eliza Fitz and Elizabeth Oram—who each patented globes and are the only two women profiled—were in the education field. The Joneses (who patented an in-car navigation system) and the Pollards (a map-quiz device)—two pairs of brothers—can be counted among the engineers. The book lists a number of patentees from the publishing and printing trades, and a great many that pursued multiple livelihoods. For example, John Plato (rural address finding) was a soldier, draftsman, lumber dealer, teacher, rancher, machinist, and a mapmaker for the US Government. Some, such as Edward Swett, were civic-minded, inventing a fire alarm system linked to a town or city street map. At least one inventor was rascally: Olin D. Gray (patentee of a globe containing a strip of pictures) ran an eponymous lithography firm and went afoul of the law by printing dodgy lottery tickets. Some sixty percent of those profiled held multiple patents, led by Jay Rhodes with over two hundred. Just shy of half of those listed in the Directory held additional patents unrelated to cartography; Max Bremsy, inventor of an in-car map system, also patented a cigar design.

The same template is applied across all of the biographies—birth date and place of origin, parents and siblings, schooling, means of livelihood and work locations, the patent(s), marriage and offspring, death date and place—and this structure makes clear the tantalizing gaps in any particular entry. Mark Monmonier’s introduction catalogs the travails of searching for historical records and artifacts in today’s online research domain. He and his team relied chiefly on census records and directories accessed through Ancestry Library Edition (ancestry.com/cs/us/institution).

In the course of doing the research for a book or dissertation, one tends to become an expert on all manner of detail that does not, for one reason or another, fit the flow of the final work. A Directory of Cartographic Inventors: Clever People Awarded a US Patent for a Map-Related Device or Method is a model for preserving this kind of information in a form available to the cartographic community. And, it would be neatly circular if the biographical information in the Directory eventually filtered back into genealogy networks such as Ancestry.com.