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Bird's-Eye-View Maps

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What can I find here?

The Wisconsin Historical Society owns over 200 original and reproduction bird's-eye-view maps of Wisconsin cities and villages dating from the 1860s to the early 1900s.

Bird's-eye-view maps are drawings that depict aerial views of entire cities or towns. They have a distorted, yet charming, perspective since the artists combined factual elements with a leap of imagination. These maps were popular from the 1860s until the development of aerial photography around 1920.

Small settlements may be depicted only once in small, simply colored maps. Large cities may be represented by several, more elaborate maps.

Bird's-eye-view maps were sold to local residents who expected the map of their city or village to be presented as thriving and prosperous. Artists added details such as smoke streaming from factory chimneys, ships sailing the rivers or harbors, and railroad engines busily hauling freight.

The maps were expected to be accurate. Street names had to be correct and buildings meticulously represented. Details were important, down to the number of doors and windows, and their placement, in individual homes.

Bird's-eye-view maps are valuable resources for local history and architectural research, as well as providing a uniquely American vision of the urban landscape.

How is it organized?

Physical
  • Bird's-eye-view maps are located in the Archives.
  • They are arranged alphabetically by city, then chronologically.

Online
  • Most bird's-eye-view maps are available for viewing online.
  • Maps can be searched by keyword, geographic location or date.
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