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Water-Related News

USGS Makes Historical Maps Available Online

In 1884, the second USGS Director John Wesley Powell briefed Congress on the need for a national mapping program, stating, "The map once constructed should be enduring…"

In keeping with that spirit, The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has publicly released more than 161,000 digitally scanned historical maps spanning in excess of 130 years and covering the conterminous lower 48 states. This Historical Topographic Map Collection provides a comprehensive repository of the landscape of our Nation and tracks changes through time, providing essential clues critical in the understanding of our Nation's topography, geography and development.

"Just as parents might keep a photo album to record their children as they grew, these historical maps are the cartographer's physical quantification of how the land changed as the Nation grew over the last 130 years," explained USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "This historical collection contains immense scientific value as we shaped the land that shaped us."

With the recent completion of the states of Massachusetts and Florida, the Historical Topographic Map Collection can now offer, for free download, digital versions of the USGS legacy topographic map series which includes all scales and all editions originally published for the entire continental U.S.

As chartered, the USGS topographic mapping program has accurately portrayed the complex geography of our nation through maps in the lithographic printed format. Since the official release of the digital, scanned collection this past September, more than 1.2 million historical topographic maps have been downloaded from the website– an average of more than 5,700 maps per day.

These chronological historical maps are an important national resource as they provide the long-term record and documentation of the natural, physical and cultural landscape. The history documented by this collection and the analysis of distribution and spatial patterns is invaluable throughout the sciences and non-science disciplines. Genealogists, historians, anthropologists, archeologists and others can use this collection for research as well as a framework on which a myriad of information can be presented in relation to the national landscape.

The maps are offered to the public at no cost in GeoPDF format or as a printed copy for $15 plus a $5 handling charge from the USGS Store and can be used in conjunction with the new USGS digital topographic map, the US Topo.

Similar historical maps for Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Pacific Territories will be available later this summer.