Fordlandia, Brazil

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by Angie Cope

I’ve worked at the AGS Library for over a decade and I am still amazed to find materials on nearly every topic.  A couple years ago I caught the last 15 minutes of the PBS television special on Henry Ford (available online). Among Ford’s successes and failures was mention of his Utopian community built in the Amazon rainforest. Returning to work, I checked the map drawers to see if I could find any maps of Fordlandia.

Sure enough, I discovered three annotated, blueline print maps dontated to the AGS in 1939 from Dr. Lewis Hanke. Hanke was a preeminent Latin American historian who corresponded with the AGS while researching his Handbook of Latin American studies.

The Fordlandia story generally goes like this …

In 1927 Henry Ford purchased 2,471,000 acres of land in the Amazon rainforest from the State of Para, Brazil. Ford ambitiously hoped to free his company’s dependence on foreign rubber by starting a rubber plantation. This first concession of land was in the north of Brazil at Boa Vista.


brazil map


Clearing of the land began in 1929 and production problems ensued almost immediately. Ford had relocated employees from the U.S. to run the plantation and hired local workers as labor. Personnel issues ranged from illness and homesickness to rebellion. The city was modeled after Dearborn, Michigan and had a power plant, library, golf course, barber, hospital, and housing for employees. Ford expected residents would enjoy leading a wholesome American lifestyle, eating hamburgers and living in homes similar to those in Dearborn. Quickly, local workers protested working conditions. Among their grievances was working 8 hours during the heat of the day when they were accustomed to working early-morning and late-evening shifts. Conditions became so bad that workers rioted.


One of three maps held at the AGS Library: Map of Ford Concession on Plateau of Santarem, 1938. Shows lots planted by year, location of clone nurseries and research departments for Belterra concession. (click on image for larger view


In addition to personnel issues, Ford’s engineers lacked knowledge of growing rubber trees. Seeds were planted too closely together making them easy prey for tree disease and pests. Before long, most of the trees died.

By 1934, the State of Para exchanged 695,586 of the original acres for an equal-sized waterfront area 30 miles south of Santarem. The original area, named Boa Vista, was never used as a plantation again but was used as a research station and laboratory for many years.

One of three maps held at the AGS Library: Fordlandia estatemap, 1936. Shows plantation houses, barracks, railroads, roads, condemned areas, creeks, jungle or second growth areas, etc. Includes statistics table showing camps, houses and families by place. (click on image for larger view)

The new site of Belterra, with flatter topography, offered better conditions for producing rubber and allowed the use of machinery. However, a drop in demand for rubber and high costs of production made Belterra economically unfeasable for Ford. Eventually the plantation was sold to the Brazilian government.

One of three maps held at the AGS Library: Map of Ford concessions and exploration trails plotted from government maps, 1934. Shows conession boundaries, land traded for Belterra, trails, places, etc. (click on image for a larger view)


Returning to my observation that the AGS Library has items on nearly every topic, I also enjoy how any map in the collection can distract the user in a dozen different directions. Whether writing about Lewis Hanke, the donor of the 3 Fordlandia maps, or simply researching the annotations – there is so much of interest to consider. Who annotated the maps? Who gave them to Hanke and why? What was Hanke’s relationship to the AGS of NY? Who is the O.G. cited as the draftsman of the maps?

There are many other great internet sites and books if you’d like to find out more about Fordlandia.

Historic images from the Benson Ford Research Center can be seen here.

Workers clearing the jungle at Fordlandia, June 18, 1934.

The Ruins of Fordlandia (from “Damn Interesting” blog) by Alan Bellows is quite good

Fordlandia : the rise and fall of Henry Ford’s forgotten jungle city (2009) by Greg Grandin is a great read. (Description and review:


July 28, 2016 Update

Susan Dykes, the AGSL Metadata Specialist, recently discovered 43 photographs held at the AGS Library from Robert S. Platt in Fordlandia.

You may view them here:

Click here for information on the Robert S. Platt collection





Crocker Land: The Land of Mist

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By Robert Jaeger

During Robert Peary’s attempt at reaching the North Pole in 1906, he claimed to have spotted a previously unidentified island off the northwest coast of Greenland. He named it Crocker Land, after one of his primary financial supporters, George Crocker.

While Peary may have fabricated the island’s existence in order to obtain further funding from Crocker for his next attempt at the Pole in 1909, Crocker Land nevertheless became a hot topic in 1909 after Frederick Cook and Peary both claimed to have reached the Pole.

During his expedition to the Pole, Cook stated that he traveled across the area Peary called Crocker Land and there was no land present. In an effort to prove the existence of Crocker Land and discredit Cook, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, both assistants of Peary on his trip to the Pole in 1909, were chosen to lead an expedition to Crocker land. However, Borup died unexpectedly, delaying the start of the expedition and leaving MacMillan to lead the expedition by himself.

MacMillan set out 1913, and the expedition was immediately beset with a series of misfortunes. Among them, a shipwreck on the way to Greenland, two failed rescue missions, the alleged murder of an Inuit guide, and the biggest of all: that Crocker Land turned out to be an illusion. At first MacMillan refused to believe it was a mirage caused by mist, but after several days of attempting to reach it, he was forced to accept the truth and turn back.

Sealskin coat worn by MacMillan.
Sealskin coat worn by MacMillan.

The expedition finally returned in 1917. As the AGS was one of the main sponsors of the expedition, the AGS-NY Archives at UW Milwaukee contains many of the records from it. These records provide much scientific data, helping to salvage something from the expedition. Included are geographical, mammalogical, and ornithological reports, along with meteorological and astronomical records. There is also a large wooden box, containing numerous artifacts from previous Arctic expeditions. Among these are items from Elisha Kent Kane and Robert Peary.

Artifacts brought back from earlier Arctic explorations held at the AGS Library, UW Milwaukee.

USGS Copper Plates

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by Angie Cope

The technology of making maps has changed radically over the years and at the AGS Library, we endeavor to preserve the tools used in that process. In the summer of 2014, the United States Geological Survey made hand engraved copper plates available to libraries and universities via the Federal Surplus system. The plates were used in the engraving of maps and diagrams between 1880s to the 1950s. Three copper plates were used in the construction of each topographic map. Civil divisions and public works were represented in black, water features in blue, and contours and miscellaneous features in brown.

AGSL already owned a Milwaukee 1:62,500 set of plates and now is fortunate enough to add three additional sets to their holdings. The plates acquired this year are for Bayview, Whitewater and Waukesha topographic maps dating from the early 1900s. These will help AGSL, Special Collections and various UWM departments in teaching about history of earth science data collection and compilation, maps and mapping techniques, and engraving and printing techniques.​



 More pictures of the plates can be seen at the AGS Library Flickr photograph page.


The AGS Library also has a nice exhibit of mid to late 20th century tools used to make a map. Can you identify the Rapidgraph Pen & Ink set, the Leroy Lettering set, the classroom Stereoscope, and the Symbol Drawing Templates?


2014 tools of the trade display
Click on the image for a larger view.



The Harrison Forman Photo Collection

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By Susan Dykes

I was recently asked what my favorite image is in the Harrison Forman Collection.  Having become intimately familiar with tens of thousands of images Harrison Forman took, it was an overwhelming and almost impossible request to say the least.  There are so many!  Harrison Forman, photojournalist and adventurer, travelled the world from the 1930s through the 1970s.  He was prolific, wielding his camera to capture major historical events, and the economies, infrastructures, politics, societies, educational systems, and cultures of the places he visited.

By far my favorite kinds of images Forman took are of the people living in many of these places, asking them to take a moment from their daily lives practicing their trades, spending time with their families, and simply enjoying life, to pose for a photo.  Of the thousands of portraits and group photos he took, I found those of the Berber people living in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco among the most striking and beautiful in the collection.

My favorite image, taken in the 1960s, shows a Berber woman in the foreground, eyes closed, wearing a delicate lace veil and coin jewelry, two Berber men behind her in traditional clothing wearing turbans, and another man in the background, photo bombing the shot.

Morocco, Berber people from Atlas Mountains

There’s something very serene about the woman.  Perhaps she just blinked, but I choose to think she was soaking up the sun on her face and possibly the moment.  The two men, eager to be a part of the photograph, looking directly at the camera and the man in the back with a look of wonder, curious about the activity.

Forman’s enthusiasm about documenting people and cultures outside of the Western world is evident in this photograph.  He wanted to share the beauty of people in places unfamiliar to us at the time of his work, which in an historical context, makes a much richer scholarly endeavor today.

While this image is in black and white, as well as the other images of the Berbers in the UWM Libraries Digital Collections online, the Harrison Forman Collection includes over 50,000 color slides that have yet to be digitized, some of which Forman took of the Berber people.  It is our hope that we will be able to obtain the funding to digitize the slides in the near future and make them accessible online, in all their full color glory!

In the meantime, check out the rest of Forman’s images of the Berber people in Morocco:

And, explore images of the other people around the world Forman photographed:

If you have questions about the Harrison Forman Collection, or would like to know more about the color slides, please contact Susan Peschel at the American Geographical Society Library.

AGS of NY Archives Grant-Supported Processing Project Completed

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by Bob Jaeger and Susan Peschel

A three-year project to organize and process the American Geographical Society of New York Archives, funded by a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation through the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), has been completed.

The CLIR grant funded a full-time archivist and part-time student employees to work on the collection, which contains the records of the Society, the only organization focused on bringing together academics, business people, those who influence public policy (including leaders in local, state and federal government, state and federal government, not-for-profit organizations and the media), and the general public for the express purpose for furthering the understanding of the role of geography in our lives.  

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AGS of NY Archive reading room.
AGS Archives in New York
The Archives room at the AGS of NY.
Archives upon arrival in Milwaukee
Temporary storage of the Archives prior to sorting and processing.

The materials date from the Society’s founding in 1851 and include approximately 350 cubic feet of material, with documents relating to well-known figures in American exploration and the larger field of geography from the mid–nineteenth century through most of the twentieth.

Process AGS Archive
Completed project as of February 2015.

Highlights include log books, diaries, photographs, and artifacts of early Polar expeditions, such as the papers of Robert E. Peary (who served as President of the Society), the American flag carried by Capt. Charles Francis Hall on his second Polar Expedition, and correspondence with such individuals as David Livingstone, Franklin D. Roosevelt (an AGS councilor), Charles Lindbergh, and William H. Seward, to name only a few.

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Artifacts and a journal from Isaac Israel Hayes’ Polar expeditions of 1860 and 1869.
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Inuit sketches by Robert Flaherty
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The archives hold papers of Robert E. Peary (who served as President of the Society), and correspondence with such individuals as David Livingstone, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, and William H. Seward to name a few.

The collection contains correspondence, publications, reports, maps, meeting minutes, ledgers, and records on expeditions, explorers, and other geographic organizations and activities. For more information, please contact the American Geographical Society Library at 414-229-6282 or via email at agsl at uwm dot edu.

American Geographical Society Library Records, 1851-2013 (link to finding aid)

The most boring map in the world

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By Angie Cope

By far, the most boring map in the world has got to be the outline map. Think about it … No pictures to look at, no text to read, no tables of data to substantiate the map. Just lines on a piece of paper.

The outline map is so boring that there is nothing written about it. I spent 15 minutes looking through geographic dictionaries, encyclopedias, cartography books, books on maps and map history and not one book gave a definition of an outline map or even a small mention.

What is there to say about the most boring maps in the world? Well, I have often said it that even the most boring map has an interesting story to tell and this is true even of the outline map.

The outline map has been and continues to be the main stay of geographic education. Every student in the United States has been given many outline maps and told to identify boundaries, rivers, capitals and more.  Do a search online and there are hundreds and thousands of outline maps available. But still, very little written about them.

At the AGS Library, we have 9 drawers full of outline maps by publishers such as  C.S. Hammond, Justus Perthes, George Philip & Sons, A.J. Nystrom, U.S. Army Map Service, the American Geographical Society of New York, Erwin Raisz and Edward Stanford to name a few.

A few of the drawers filled with outline maps at the AGSL.
A few of the drawers filled with outline maps at the AGSL (click on any image for larger view).

The AGS of New York had a strong tradition of supporting geographic education in the United States and the library reflects that tradition. There are 3 1/2 inches of card catalog cards devoted to the outline map …

Outline maps in the card catalog at the AGS Library.
Outline maps in the card catalog at the AGS Library.
Student demonstrating the usefulness of the outline map in a 1950's A.J. Nystrom brochure.
Student demonstrating the usefulness of the outline map in a 1950’s A.J. Nystrom brochure.
Autograph handmaps outline maps series by Edward Stanford.
Autograph handmaps outline maps series by Edward Stanford.
Richard Berry's relief outline map series.
Richard Berry’s relief outline map series.


Erwin Raisz, Hungarian born cartographer, physiographic outline maps.
Erwin Raisz, Hungarian born cartographer, physiographic outline maps.
Outline map with assignment addressing the issues around projection by Ryan & Buker, 1920.
Outline map with assignment addressing the issues around projection by Ryan & Buker, 1920.
Blackboard outline map of the British Empire by Philips & Sons.
Blackboard outline map of the British Empire by Philips & Sons.
List of publishers represented among the AGS Library holdings.
List of publishers represented among the AGS Library holdings.

As the inaugural blog for the AGS Library blog, I hope you haven’t been bored to death by boring maps. Every map holds a story – even the boring outline map. Check back for more blogs from the AGSL staff – hopefully less boring.

Welcome to the AGS Library Blog

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Thank you for visiting the AGS Library. The rich collections of the library will be highlighted at these pages.

Please visit us at our Facebook page or click on a photo at the right to see the wide variety of materials held at the AGS Library via our Flickr photo stream.