by Angie Cope
The Seeger Map Company, a mainstay in the map world, announced it will be closing the business by the end of 2020. The first Seeger maps were those drawn for motel guests on scraps of paper in the late 1960s. Eventually, the company would distribute 2 million maps a year and employ 27 people in their Racine, Wisconsin offices. One thing is for sure, the enduring legacy of Seeger Map Company will live on in homes and libraries across the United States, and abroad.
Norman Seeger Sr. was a sergeant with the Racine Police Department and he also built the Seeger Motel on Durand Avenue in Racine, Wisconsin.* The motel catered to visiting business people who frequently asked for directions. No local map of Racine existed, so Norm Sr. sketched directions on a piece of paper. He wearied of that task and started passing out mimeographed copies to his guests.
From the beginning, Norman Sr. was assisted by his son, also named Norman. They saw an opportunity to provide local maps and partnered up with Ed Raymond who had been printing specialty products for banks, realtors, hospitals and churches. Seeger and Raymond produced their first map of Racine with advertisements and coupons in the margins. The business was called “Seeger’s Local Map & Directory Company” because a page sized directory/index was included with the map.
In the early days the business was part time and most activity happened during the summers when Norman Jr. wasn’t busy with his teaching job. Norman Jr. attended Dominican College and Purdue University and taught chemistry, math and computers at St. Catherine’s School in Racine. The business was a family affair involving children, a niece and many family friends. A light table and all the accompanying manual tools were set up in the basement of the family home. A family friend engineered a device that created plastic wrappers for the maps and then family members packaged and labeled maps for distribution. In the early 1970s, Norman Jr. contacted the geography department at Carroll College to hire a cartographer to help create some of their first maps of Waukesha, Milwaukee and Madison.
The early maps were blue and red ink on white paper. Printing of maps was handled by Angel Lithographing, Burton & Mayer and Badger Printing.
By 1980, the business became more than the family basement could handle and the company purchased the 401 Main Street building in Racine. By this time, Dan Bartelt had been hired as the company’s first non-family employee and he helped aid the transition from the basement to a successful company. Eventually, Seeger purchased 403 Main Street as well to accommodate the growing business.
Norman Jr. wasn’t one to jump on the latest fads and trends but did eventually adopt the use of technology for his map making. He worked with Waukesha County friend Dave Stack to build a Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) program that transitioned the company from paper to digital.
Another milestone for the Seeger Map Company occurred in the late 80s when they began to design and produce maps for customers outside Wisconsin for the Ohio Auto Club, and for the Franklin County, Ohio, Engineering Department. In the early 90s a landmark relationship was launched when the Carolinas Motor Club contacted Seeger for map design. Affiliation with the American Automobile Association (AAA) soon followed and the relationship quickly grew to included other state and national level clubs. Eventually, more than 80% of Seeger’s business was with the AAA clubs.
Norm Jr. resigned his teaching position in 1989 to become the sole owner of Seeger Map Company and to devote his full attention to the company. At the height of the company’s success in the mid-1990s, they employed 27 people and produced 2 million maps a year. The company still employed family members such as Norm Jr.’s daughter Becky who paid her way through college as an indexer, a task she did completely manually. Norm Jr. and his wife Carol scheduled their family vacations around map making. They’d drive up and down the streets of places like Branson, Nashville and Gatlinburg recording business names and points of interest. Norm and Carol wrote their notes on enlarged printouts of Seeger maps that they’d then give to the cartographers to update the computer files. Examples of these manuscript maps will be housed at the American Geographical Society Library at UW Milwaukee.
By the 2010s, Norm Jr. had semi-retired from the company and left the daily operations in the capable hands of Dan Bartelt and the cartographers, and Sandi Knorr, the company Administrator. Unfortunately, Bartelt passed away unexpectedly in 2013 at the age of 55. Norm Jr. had to come out of retirement to restructure the business. He never did quite fully get to retirement before he died in 2018. According to Norm Jr.’s wife Carol, he was nonetheless happily reaping many benefits of years of hard work and wise investments that came from running a successful business.
The American Geographical Society Library holds over 700 maps made by The Seeger Map Company, Inc. and there are over 3,000 titles held at libraries from around the world according to worldcat.org. Seeger succeeded while other paper map companies gave way to the changing times. Norman Seeger Jr. and The Seeger Map Company are respected names in local, regional, and national cartographic production. To say that their legacy will live on, is an understatement.
A special thank you to Becky Seeger Jenn and Carol Seeger for speaking with the author and sharing their stories.
*The motel was built in 1960 by Norman Seeger Sr. and his wife. The name was changed in 1970 to The Seeker Motel when ownership changed to Mervin Brandt, who had previously served as Pewaukee village president. Brandt died in 1975. The motel still rents rooms today, just a few blocks from the lakefront.
According to the following table, compiled by Joe Tomich, Librarian at UW Milwaukee Libraries, there are 2,994 Seeger Map Co. maps in WorldCat. The Library of Congress has been receiving copies of Seeger maps and holds 1,669 (cataloged, likely some uncataloged as part of their backlog). The AGS Library at UWM holds 788 Seeger maps.
Because many of Seeger’s early maps didn’t list a date, catalogers guessed at a date and the same map may have been cataloged more than once but with different dates.
You can view or download the following table as a pdf file.
A list of all the companies and organizations affiliated with Seeger Map Company, Inc. over the years (click on image for a larger view).
PDF version of this list: