The Newberry

Mapping Movement

United Air Lines System Map, 1962

Referenced by Essay: 

The airplane became a dominant transportation force during World War II but it was not until the late 1940s that its major impact on airline maps was felt in response to the introduction of long-haul aircraft with pressurized cabins such as the Lockheed Constellation, Douglas DC-6, and Boeing 377 Stratocruiser that could fly long distances at great speeds (265- 340 mph) above the most turbulent weather and clouds (25,000-33,000 feet), too fast and high for passengers to see particular landscape features.

As aircraft speed and altitude progressively increased, map makers turned their focus from depicting detailed topographic features and landmarks to providing more generalized but realistic impressions of the earth’s surface as seen from space through a combination of colors and shaded relief. Cartographic artists Hal Shelton (Jeppesen & Company), Vahe Kirishjian (General Drafting), and F. H. Reitz (McCorquodale & Co) were at the forefront of these developments.

Shelton’s unique “natural color” system, shown here, set the standard.  By blending colors with the physical structure of the land, he portrayed the dominant types of natural vegetation covering the United States as seen from ground level. Shelton prepared a visual key to help readers identify his nine basic vegetation types, ranging from “Forest: Tropical Broadleaf Evergreen” (dark green) to “Tundra: Mosses and Stunted Arctic Plants” (light brown).  Initially devised for United Airlines in 1949, other airline map publishers soon adopted Shelton’s “natural color” system, but none matched the artistic rendering of the Jeppesen/ Shelton maps.  Trained in mathematics and art, Shelton began his career with the U. S. Geological Survey but became dissatisfied with the traditional methods of representing terrain.  He developed the basis for his “natural color” system during World War II preparing maps of North Africa for the U. S. Army using an oscillating - needle airbrush, casein and acrylic paints in association with off-set-press zinc plates on which contour maps were imprinted.  During his career with Jeppesen, his “natural color” base maps were used for both aeronautical charts and airline souvenir maps during a 30 year period beginning in 1949.

Following the introduction of jet commercial aircraft, which began in earnest in the United States at the end of 1958 with regularly scheduled cross- country jet service, speed replaced safety and comfort as airline marketing strategies. Pictures of the airline’s latest jets, such as the Douglas DC-7 Mainliner, shown here, adorned the front and back of map covers, and “hour scales” designed to remind passengers of time saved were often displayed on or near the map.

The verso of this map is devoted to geographic trivia to help passengers, particularly those with children, pass the time before the introduction of in-flight radio and movies.

United Airline’s DC-7 Mainliner map series was produced during the most popular era of airline souvenir maps, a period that coincided with a rapidly growing American middle class with extended leisure time.  Jeppesen published six million copies of this map series in 14 printings between 1959-1965, a reflection of its popularity.