Map symbols for bridges and river related features on Latvian topographic maps of the 1920s and earlier. From the book

Apzimejumi Merniecibas un Kulturtechniskiem Planiem

(Legends from Surveying and Cultural-Technical Plans)

Ministry of Agriculture

Riga, Latvia, 1928.

Original plate with translation to English below:







Toll Bridges:




Floating Bridge




Anchored Raft

Boat Raft

Oared Raft

Roped raft

Boundary in the middle of the river

Boundary at the edge of the drainage ditch

Map symbols for roads and road related features on Latvian topographic maps of the 1920s and earlier. From the book

Apzimejumi Merniecibas un Kulturtechniskiem Planiem

(Legends from Surveying and Cultural-Technical Plans)

Ministry of Agriculture

Riga, Latvia, 1928.

Original plate with translation to English below:

Public Roads:

1) a, b – carriageway edge

2) carriageway:
c – stone or macadamized, d – wood, e – gravel, f – unbuilt

3) g – culverts

4) h – stone bridge

5) i – rail bridge

6) k – road shoulder

7) l – ditches

8) m – greenery / vegetation

 a – entrenchment

 b – embankment

 c – slope to one side

 d – marsh dams

 e – ditches

Winter road


Private roads

1) a, b – outer edge

2) carrageway:
c – unbuilt, d – stone or macadamized, e – wood, f – gravel;

3) g – culverts

4) h – wooden bridge

5) i – ditch


A scarce booklet of map symbols that appears in only one library (Berlin State Library) according to the global library catalog WorldCat. I will post more symbols from this booklet in the near future, as well as a PDF of the entire booklet.

Map Symbols: Railroads

Seventeen variations on a theme:

Symbols for…

Normal or broad gauge, single track railroad, operating.
Normal or broad gauge, single track railroad, non-operating.
Normal or broad gauge, double or multiple track railroad, operating.
Normal or broad gauge, double or multiple track railroad, non-operating.
Narrow gauge, single track railroad, operating.
Narrow gauge, single track railroad, non-operating.
Narrow gauge, double or multiple track railroad, operating.
Narrow gauge, double or multiple track railroad, non-operating.
Railroads in juxtaposition.
Railroad yards.
Railroad station.
Point of change in gauge, number of tracks, or in the reliability of the elignment or the existence of railroad.
Railroad, location approximate.
Railroad, exact location unknown.
Aerial cableway, ski lift, conveyor belt and similar features.
Railroad names (Principal railroads only).
Railroads in outlined populated places.

Symbol and drafting specifications:

Symbol and specifications for (hand) compilation and (ink) drafting:

Symbols for Small Scale Maps
Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army
Army Map Service
Washington DC

To understand map design, and how maps work, it is useful to see how map design concepts play out on a real map.

One of the significant updates to the 2nd edition of Making Maps was the inclusion of a map of the 1986 trans-global flight of the experimental aircraft called Voyager. This map, originally designed and created by David DiBiase and I back in 1987 for David Woodward’s map design course (and in the University of Wisconsin Cartographic Lab), is repeated thirteen times in seven of the chapters, annotated to show how the concepts and ideas in these chapters play out on the map.

The repeatedly annotated Voyager map serves as an example of map design in practice, but also a guide to “reading” a map from the perspective of map design.

Martin Dodge suggested the annotated maps be available together, for instructional purposes. A good idea! So here they are. Each individual map on this page is a 800k PNG file (click for full size).

A PDF file (8.8mb) with all thirteen higher resolution TIFF images is available here.

The Voyager map project was quite a bit of fun to create back in the day. It won a map design award, was published in the book about the Voyager flight, and printed on paper as part of a promotion for the Waukesha County, Wisconsin Airport. I cannot imagine anything much more exciting than that.


The second map in the series prefaces the initial chapter in Making Maps 2nd edition, and poses a series of questions that will be addressed in future chapters (and annotated Voyager maps):

Chapter 2, What’s Your Map For?, sets the context of the map (and of its re-creation for the book) and how such context shapes the design of the map:

Chapter 6, The Big Picture of Map Design, repeats the Voyager map five times, focusing on the key map design concepts covered in the chapter. This is where the map flips orientation south up (a controversial design choice, according to some reviewers: good! Think about why such a choice is controversial, and if it should be [or ask your students to do so]):

South is now up (so the story reads from left to right):

Annotations about map pieces including title, scale, explanatory text, legend, directional indicator, border, sources, credits, and insets & locator maps:

Annotations about visual arrangement including path, visual center, balance, symmetry, sight-lines, and grids:

Annotations about graphical excellence, based on Edward Tufte’s ideas, including complexity, detail, design variation & data variation, context, revision, non-data ink, data-ink ratio, explanatory text, editing, chartjunk & map crap, redundancy, and multivariate data:

Chapter 7, The Inner Workings of Map Design, reveals the Voyager map with no visual differences (a confusing mess of lines and type):

The map with visual differences is then annotated, with regard to key methods for establishing visual differences, including detail, edges, texture, layering, shape, size, closure, proximity, simplicity, direction, familiarity, and color:

Chapter 8, Map Generalization and Classification, annotates the Voyager map in terms of the generalization concepts of selection, dimension change, simplification, smoothing, displacement, and enhancement:

Chapter 9, Map Symbolization, annotates the map in terms of the visual variables: shape, size, color hue, color value, color intensity, and texture:

Chapter 10, Words on Maps, annotates the Voyager map with regards to typographic variables including typeface, type form, type weight, and type size:

I have a few ideas for additional annotated Voyager maps (such as a full color map) which I hope to cobble together in the future. If you have any other ideas for variations that might be useful or interesting, let me know.

It’s out! Got my copies yesterday. A terrific upgrade from the first edition of the book – larger format, better paper, complete redesign, lots of new content. Shipping from Amazon and other similar sites. Let me know what you think if (when) you get a copy!

A few pre-publication reviews:

James E. Meacham, Senior Research Associate and InfoGraphics Lab Director, Department of Geography, University of Oregon: “Building on their solid first edition, Krygier and Wood have created a new and much richer follow-up. The second edition represents a serious reworking of subject matter and graphics. The book uses extraordinary map exemplars to address the full range of basic cartographic concepts and to demonstrate many subtle and advanced design techniques as well. Addressing current social issues including map agendas, ethics, and democracy, it is the kind of book that will inspire readers and cultivate admiration for the field.”

Paul Longley, Department of Geography, University College London, United Kingdom: “Krygier and Wood’s book should be used by anyone interested in the way the world looks, the way the world works, or the way the world should be. It remains the most accessible yet comprehensive guide of its kind. The second edition meets the needs and expectations of the ‘Google generation’ of map users while remaining true to the guiding principles that govern how maps look, work, and function. The very accessible, extensively illustrated format makes the book easily usable by students at all levels, as well as those taking steps to develop expertise in cartographic design.”

Concerns about the failing nuclear reactors in Japan and the fear of spreading radiation inspired me to share one of my favorite maps. The map shows areas in the United States crossed by two or more radioactive clouds during the era of nuclear testing (1951-1962) in the American Southwest. Click on the map for a larger version.

Richard Miller painstakingly created his map showing where humans, animals, and the environment were contaminated by radioactive fallout, broadly dispersed by weather patterns.

A sublime map, both beautiful and terrifying.

The map is also reproduced in my forthcoming book, Making Maps, 2nd Edition (due any day now).

Source: Richard Miller, “Areas crossed by two or more radioactive clouds during the era of nuclear testing in the American Southwest, 1951-62” in Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing (Two-Sixty Press, 1999), between chapters 4 and 5.

Click map for larger version; full version (7.3 mb PDF) here

The beauty of words on maps is often not evident, embedded, as they are, in an array of other symbols. A “word map” of South America (above), published by the Geographical Press in 1935, consists entirely of hand-lettered words. The map is supposed to show the labeled landforms of South America; this copy was erroneously printed without the landforms. The map is another find from the dusty old Departmental archives here at Ohio Wesleyan.

The South America word map is not that dissimilar from the word map poetry of Howard Horowitz: below, Manhattan:

A few examples of “word maps” or “typographic maps” have recently popped up on the internets.

National Geographic’s What’s in a Surname (below) interactive map of the dominant surnames in different parts of the US (upper Midwest, and Southwest) reveal structure (the form of the US is evident) as well as meaning (variations in ethnicity across the US).

Axis Maps Typographic Map series works in much the same way, but at a different scale and in a bit more complex manner:

Chicago Typographic Map (Axis Maps)


Boston Typographic Map (Axis Maps)

The Axis Typographic Maps use typography as line and area map symbols, providing a nuanced exposition of the geography of these places, the grid of Chicago or the meandering roads of Boston. Again, both meaning and structure are generated by words alone.

But back to the old South America map…

The South American map follows the typical “rules” about type placement, worked out in practice throughout the last few hundred years, and now embedded in cartography texts and in automatic text placement algorithms in GIS software. These rules will, in most cases, make the map easier to read and understand. On the excerpts of the South America map below

  • City names are mixed caps/lower case, roman, and horizontal
  • Country names are upper case, horizontal, and spread out to define the areas
  • Natural features are in the more flowing italics form; if referring to a point, they are horizontal, if they refer to linear or area features (rivers, regions) they are curved to fit the feature.

In practice, placement is complicated, as words cross other words, wrap around each other, and (on most maps) vie for space with other map symbols. The South America map has some neat examples of the art of placing words on maps:

The size of the words varies – suggesting large areas, or places of more importance.

Below find a few pages from the new (2nd) edition of Making Maps (2011) on type as a map symbol. These pages show how typography can be used to express both qualitative and quantitative characteristics of the data they stand for on a map. Typographic guidelines on these pages include typeface (font), type size, type weight, and form (including italics, roman, color, case, and spacing).


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