Fantastic mechanical map of United States territorial expansion

James T. B. Ives, HISTORICAL MAP Showing the Successive Acquisitions of Territory by the United States of America. New York: J. T. B. Ives, 340 Fourth Avenue, [ca. 1896.]
Mechanical teaching map of the United States, 17 ½”h x 28 ½”w at neat line plus margins, consisting of several territorial “layers,” each attached to cut-tin pulleys activated by wooden levers. The mechanism housed in its original wood frame, hinged clamshell fashion to allow access to the pulley mechanism, the whole 24 ½”h x 34”w. [With:] 5 ½”h x 3 ¾”w photograph of Ives mounted on card and dated “May 24 1912” on verso. [With:] three copies of a brief explanatory pamphlet, each sewn into boards, two identical at [10pp] including paste-ons to the title page and small additions in manuscript to the text, the other variant at [11pp].

An ingenious mechanical map for use in schools, illustrating the territorial expansion of the United States. Fragile, rare and an extraordinary survival in such fresh condition, and descended in the designer’s family until 2016.

The map’s construction is complex, consisting of multiple cartographic layers. The topmost layer consists of a map of part of North America, with a large area conforming to the boundaries of the “Lower 48” states excised. This is superimposed on eight pairs of cutouts, every pair corresponding to an episode of territorial expansion. In each pair a lower, static layer depicts the major waterways and the names of the native American nations who were the original inhabitants; while an upper layer depicts modern (as of 1893) state boundaries, major cities, Indian reservations, and other features. Each upper layer is connected via cut-tin pulleys (see image at left) to a lever at the base of the frame; moving a lever slides that layer into place, thereby as it were effacing the original geography and replacing it with a territorial acquisition.

The map illustrates nine episodes of expansion, including the original 13 states at independence, the acquisition of the Public Domain through the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the 1819 acquisition of Florida though the Adams-Onis Treaty, the 1845 annexation of Texas and the 1850 Texan Cession (together on one cutout), the acquisition of much of the Southwest through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (confusingly mislabeled on the map as “1850 Texan Cession”), and the 1853 Gadsden Purchase.

I have been unable to determine whether designer and publisher James T. B. Ives had any “rhetorical intent” when he produced this remarkable object. However the basic design of the mechanism conveys an impression, in keeping with the myth of Manifest Destiny, of a process both orderly and inevitable. It also conveys—at least to our modern sensibility—a sense of the tragedy that befell a civilization that was literally effaced from the map.

Additional material
The map is offered here with a cabinet photograph of Ives and two versions (one of which is present in two copies) of an accompanying instructional pamphlet.  One of the title pages offers Ives’ “pitch” for his remarkable mechanism:

“The territorial growth of the United States has been admirably illustrated by consecutive diagrams, but the idea of applying mechanism to the elucidation of the subject is a novelty, and experienced educators to whom this Aid has been shown, say that the student’s seeing the country grow up before his eyes is an important advance on previous methods[.]”

The pamphlets describe the map, give long lists of native American nations and European settlements, provide tables of historical population and land area, and reprint testimonials. Two of the pamphlets are identical; bear a paste-on to the title page indicating that Ives had relocated from Philadelphia to Andover, New Hampshire; and include manuscript additions updating the population table to 1910. The third pamphlet has a different title page, a New York imprint, and a page of testimonials.

James Thomas Bostock Ives
According to one biographer, Ives

“was born in London, England, in 1839, and died in Andover, New Hampshire, in 1915. He was educated in private schools in London, and on completing his education entered business with his father in 1858. Upon his father’s retirement, Mr. Ives took over the business and established a branch in Hampstead, England. He was very active and energetic, buying land and building houses, and at one time operating two stores in London. Meeting with business reverses in 1883, he gradually got rid of his English affairs and came to Toronto, Canada, in 1886. Of a scientific turn of mind, long a member of the Geological Society of London, Mr. Ives turned his attention exclusively to that angle of life when he came to America. He invented and manufactured a series of maps used widely in the teaching of geology by colleges and in illustrating territorial growth in history courses. From Canada he moved to New York, then to Philadelphia, engaged in making maps and in teaching first geology, and later, history. In 1904 he joined his son in Andover, where he remained until his death. He was a man of brilliant mind and an interesting conversationalist.” (John Hoyt Lockwood, Western Massachusetts: A History)

Ives also authored the Ives [Geological] Strata Map and the Ives Altitude Map. These likewise relied on moving parts, albeit a simpler mechanism of layered pages, to communicate a complicated geographic phenomenon. In 1893, he received a medal for his innovative maps at the World Columbian Exposition, in Chicago.

The Historical Map probably first appeared around 1896, as Utah appears to be included as a state. The first mention I have found of it is a review in The School Journal for October 2, 1897, followed by a notice of the Boston Public Library’s acquisition of a copy in 1898-99. I find an advertisement for it as late as 1913. This suggests that the map was produced over a significant span of time, perhaps in very small numbers on an “as needed” basis.

The map was fragile, complex and expensive, advertised for $15 at a time when for example Rand McNally was selling a set of 32 Foster Historical Charts for just $20. As a result of these factors its production run was likely very small, and its inherent fragility surely ensured a low survival rate of the few that were produced. Indeed, I have been able to locate only one other extant example—at the Peabody Essex Museum—and no reference to another one having appeared on the antiquarian market.

OCLC 851898046 (Peabody Essex Museum only). OCLC 81409175 gives an example of the pamphlet at the Clements Library. Not in Phillips or Rumsey.


Topmost layer of map lightened, with mended tears and a few small losses reinstated in facsimile. Mechanism tightened and lubricated with graphite. Plexiglass inserted in lieu of missing glass, wooden backing replaced. Extremely fragile, but in mostly excellent working order with exception of one layer, which “catches” before it can be fully retracted.