Maine in the Most Successful U.S. Atlas of the Nineteenth Century

Samuel Augustus Mitchell was one of the most successful American map publishers of the nineteenth century. Born in Bristol, Conn., in 1792, Mitchell grew up to be a teacher. It is believed that, finding the existing geography textbooks to be substandard, he moved in 1830 to the map-publishing center of Philadelphia to start his own firm (Thompson 2010, 191).

The County Map of the State of Maine is a lithographic print. It was published as the eleventh map in a late 1860 printing of Mitchell’s new general atlas, containing maps of the various countries of the world. Its hand-coloring shows only fifteen counties: Knox county was incorporated in 1860, the same year this map was printed, indicating that this map was derived from a pre-1860 map (Thompson 2010, 411). This is also the first map of the state of Maine to show an inset of Portland Harbor (Thompson 2010, 409).

This map demonstrates key elements of Mitchell’s approach to commercial geography in nineteenth-century America. Mitchell had been one of the first atlas publishers to change to the new printing technology of lithography, which permitted Mitchell to meet increasing demand while keeping costs low, production fast, and map design attractive (Ristow 1985, 202 and 303).Mitchell’s new general atlas proved to be a very successful atlas, with at least one new edition published every year until 1893 (Ristow 1985, 313).

During the Mitchell firm’s most successful years, its 250 employees produced over 400,000 maps and textbooks annually (Thompson 2010, 191). By 1860, well before his death in 1868 (Ristow 1985, 313), Mitchell had turned over the firm to his son, S. Augustus Mitchell Jr. His son continued to be the head of the firm and was listed as publisher of Mitchell’s new general atlas until 1879. With ever-improving economic conditions, an exploding population, and the explorations of the West constantly producing new cartographic data, Americans became more and more interested in geography (Ristow 1985, 303). No one better recognized this geographic revolution than Mitchell, who was able to create an innovative and successful map publishing firm that was at the forefront of the industry for over six decades.

Further Reading (online)

Thompson, Edward V. 2011. “Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine, 1793–1860.” Exhibition at the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education.

Further Reading (print)

Ristow, Walter W. 1985. American Maps and Mapmakers: Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Thompson, Edward V. 2010. Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine, 1793-1860: An Illustrated and Comparative Study. Bangor, Me.: Nimue Books & Prints.

Izaak Onos (BA Geography-Anthropology; USM 2016)

December 2013

Prepared for GEO 207, “Map History”