Documents from Formosa

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by Bob Jaeger

Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, was under Dutch colonial rule from 1624-1662, primarily to trade with China and Japan. The Dutch missionaries also had other motives, such as attempting to convert the aborigines to Christianity. But at the same time, they also taught them reading and writing, using romanization schemes for the different Formosan languages.

After the Dutch were expelled by China, some of the aborigines retained this system of writing, which they continued to use for roughly the next hundred years.

The American Geographical Society of New York Archives contains three documents by the aborigines written during this period of post-colonization. They are all land contracts with China.


Pre-nineteenth Century document in the Romaniezed aboriginal Pepowhan (Siraya) language
Pre-nineteenth Century document in the Romaniezed aboriginal Pepowhan (Siraya) language

The AGS acquired these documents from Joseph B. Steere in 1874. A professor of zoology at the University of Michigan, Steere visited Formosa for six months from 1873-1874. He collected various types of biological and anthropological data from the island and its people. The documents date from 1723-1776 and vary in size and handwriting.

These particular documents are written in the Pepowhan (Siraya) language, which was spoken in the southwestern plain of Taiwan. The language became extinct in the first half of the 19th century, but can still be translated by scholars who specialize in the aboriginal people of Formosa. This artifact is held at the AGS Library, UW Milwaukee as part of the American Geographical Society of New York Archives.



Open Milwaukee County Topographic and Planimetric Data

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By Stephen Appel


Open data in Milwaukee has made a huge leap forward this year with the new download capabilities from the Milwaukee County Automated Mapping and Land Information Service (MCAMLIS) out of the Milwaukee County Land Information Office (MCLIO).  The MCAMLIS viewer is a feature-full web mapping application that can be found at  The current web viewer is in its second generation and we expect a third generation web map soon!

Second generation MACAMLIS data viewer

In the past, the American Geographical Society Library has entered into a license agreement with the MCLIO which allowed us to distribute the raw data from the MCAMLIS system to UWM users for classroom use only.  The data has been available in geodatabase, AutoCAD, and Microstation formats and has been most popular with Urban Planning, Geography, and Architecture students and researchers.  Library patrons requesting the data had been required to sign a special MCAMLIS request form and agree to the conditions of the license.  The library was also restricted from providing the full county dataset and instead distributed tiles to cover a patron’s area of interest.

As of this year, the MCLIO has made MCAMLIS base map data available for download from their website:  They have also implemented a data download application which is especially helpful if you are only interested in a limited area of the county.  The application allows for download of Geodatabase and AutoCAD Drawing formats.  The data download application can be found in the online application gallery:

The MCAMLIS topo/planimetric dataset is one of the best collections of high resolution planning data available for Milwaukee County.  The features include environmental, hydrologic, park, planimetric, survey control, topographic, transportation, and utility objects.  Within each of these categories, there are three feature classes representing 1) text annotations, 2) point features, and 3) line features.  In the new File Geodatabase, some of the line features are also available as polygons.

Some of the more useful features that can be extracted from the geodatabase include utility poles, elevation bench marks, topographic contours, tree points, paved roads, driveways, trails, sidewalks, railroads, airport runways, water bodies, structures (buildings), dams, bridges, walls, and text annotation features.

An example of the level of detail available in MCAMLIS data shown here in ArcGIS Desktop 10.2

If you think that the MCAMLIS topographic and planimetric features would be useful for your project, but you’re unsure about the data, the AGS library GIS services staff can help.  We have been users and distributers of this dataset for almost two decades and have extensive metadata and feature description information that are not included with the download from the MCLIO website.  We also have a guide available for extracting individual features from the larger dataset.  Contact or visit our GIS staff at the AGS library if you would like more information about the MCAMLIS datasets.

A Fan with a View

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by Bob Jaeger

Arctic Fan. Kinda sounds like an industrial strength air-conditioner, one that would keep your house extra cool in the summer. But these words describe a nineteenth-century hand-held fan with an Arctic view painted on it. This fan is held at the AGS Library, UW Milwaukee as part of the American Geographical Society of New York Archives.

Click on image for a larger view
Nineteenth-century hand painted fan (Click on image for a larger view)

While it is unclear who painted the image, the fan was given to a Miss Allington by the Arctic explorer John Ross (1777-1856), who made three voyages to the Arctic. It was later presented to the AGS by one of its vice presidents, Francis A. Stout in 1871.

Click on image for a larger view
Closer view of the Arctic scene painted on this nineteenth-century fan (Click on image for a larger view)

The fan is ornately designed, with a watercolor painting of an Arctic scene, an elaborate wooden handle, and a decorative trim and border. In an era without air conditioning, a snowy landscape like this might have helped keep the user a little bit cooler when looking upon this wintery scene.

We’d love to learn more about this fan and invite comments below.

Tragedy On Deck of the USS Augusta: First American Military Casualty of World War II

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By Susan Dykes

On August 20, 1937, the crew of the USS Augusta which was docked in Shanghai, China were gathering for a morale-boosting movie on deck.  Their night of entertainment, however, turned into a devastating incident which would become a significant moment in World War II history.

In the midst of one of the fiercest battles between Japanese and Chinese forces, the USS Augusta reached Shanghai just days before the incident on ‘Bloody Saturday,’ August 14, 1937.  Though the United States had not officially entered the war at the time, the ship and crew were tasked to protect and help evacuate American and European citizens from the escalating danger in the international settlements of the Bund – the central business district of Shanghai.  Marines from the USS Augusta were joined by those from the USS Sacramento to also protect Shanghai’s power plant, an operation that put the sailors directly in the line of fire.

The USS Augusta was thought to be secure on the night of the on-deck movie, despite the ship being surrounded by fighting and the presence of Japanese ships anchored in the nearby Huangpu River.

As the sailors were preparing to watch the movie with screen and benches brought from below, an anti-aircraft shell landed on deck sending shrapnel into the crowd taking the life of 1st Class Seaman Freddie John Falgout and injuring eighteen other sailors.  Falgout, a native of Raceland, Louisiana, was about to celebrate his 21st birthday the next day.  News of the incident quickly reached the United States, appearing in major newspapers and on the cover of the New York Times.

American Geographical Society Library staff discovered rare images of the aftermath of the incident in the AGSL Photographic Collections.  The images, showing injured sailors and the deck where the shell hit, were taken by Harrison Forman and are available online in the UWM Digital Collections.

Shanghai (China), wounded sailor and others inspecting deck of U.S.S. Augusta
Shanghai (China), wounded sailor and others inspecting deck of U.S.S. Augusta



Shanghai (China), wounded sailor on deck of U.S.S. Augusta
Shanghai (China), wounded sailor on deck of U.S.S. Augusta



The Battle of Shanghai lasted months, eventually resulting in the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.  It was considered one of many military battles that led to World War II, thereby making Falgout the first American military casualty of the war.  In 1987, Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr (D) from Louisiana, honored Falgout as such, submitting an article about the incident from the Sacramento Union, which was printed in the Congressional Record.

View all images of the USS Augusta


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.