A Second World War government Newsmap commenting on the inherent subjectivity of mapmaking

NEWSMAP…. Monday, September 14, 1942 [:] Week of September 4 to September 11 [:] Volume 1, No. 21 [and on verso:] MAPS ARE NOT TRUE FOR ALL PURPOSES.  [Washington, DC:] Army Orientation Course, Special Service Division, Services of Supply, 1942.
Offset printed in colors recto and verso, 35”h x 47”w at sheet edge. Folds as issued and minor wear, but about excellent.

A remarkable Newsmap published by the U.S. War Department during the Second World War, featuring an extended treatment of the pluses and minuses of different map projections.

The War Department published hundreds of weekly Newsmaps during the Second World War, for distribution to military installations, domestic industry and political leaders.  The Newsmaps generally featured maps of recent battles and campaigns, often but not always complemented by educational posters on the verso. The colorful graphics, striking graphic design, and generally upbeat messages seem to have made them effective tools for conveying both information and propaganda.

One side of the Newsmap offered here includes an interesting primer on the tradeoffs involved in choosing between map projections, making the basic point that “maps are not true for all purposes.”

“A map is merely a means toward an end. Since it is not possible to show everything on a map as it truly appears on a sphere, it is necessary to make a point of things considered important to the subject at hand and to sacrifice others.”

The poster includes numerous diagrams illustrating the advantages and disadvantages of conic, Mercator and azimuthal projections. It is fascinating to see a Newsmap, which was by nature a tool for government messaging and propaganda, making an argument that making is a fundamentally a selective, subjective process.

The reverse side features a large central world map, color coded to indicate regions controlled by the Allies (green) and Axis (orange). Other colors indicate Vichy France and its territories, countries that have broken off relations with the Axis, and countries still maintaining relations. Numbers on the map are keyed to text below explaining recent actions in the various military theatres. All this is accompanied by inset maps of the Russian Front and “The Push on Port Moresby” as well as photograph of military equipment, soldiers training, &c. Though the war was at a desperate point, with the Japanese in control of much of the South Pacific and the Germans pushing into Stalingrad, the overall impression is no doubt meant to be encouraging: whatever gains the Axis may have made, the vast majority of the world’s surface appears to be under Allied control.

Background on Newsmaps
The Services of Supply was established in March 1942 as part of a reorganization of the War Department.  Renamed the Army Service Forces in 1943, it had an incredibly wide remit covering activities “concerning the mobilization and preparation of the Nation’s materiel and manpower resources for war.”  These included the publication of educational and morale-building materials, first by the Special Service Division and later by an alphabet soup of other entities within the Services of Supply.  Today the best-known of these publications is the weekly newspaper Yank, but also worthy of note are the hundreds of Newsmaps issued weekly from April 1942 on:

“The posters were distributed to military installations, government and civilian groups working on War Department projects, certain depository libraries, as designated by Congress, and one copy to Congressmen, if requested. The NEWSMAPs were printed by the Magill-Weinsheimer Company, 1320-1334 S. Wabash, Chicago, under contract with the war department. The NEWSMAPs were discontinued with the Volume 5, Number 4 edition dated June 18, 1946. At the height of its distribution, NEWSMAP had a circulation of 345,000 copies. Volume 1 and 2 of these posters were prepared and distributed by the Army Orientation Course, Special Service Division, Army Service Forces, 2E580 Pentagon Building, Washington, DC. Volumes 3 and 4 were prepared and distributed by Army Information Branch, Army Service Forces, 205 E 42nd Street, New York 17, NY.” (National Archives and Records Administration)

The Newsmaps were remarkable productions.  Most issues issue featured a map or maps, using vivid colors and one more unusual projections to depict activity in important theatres of war over the previous week.  A single Newsmap might for example feature a world map; a “bird’s-eye view” of East Asia; or multiple maps of actions as far afield as Western Europe, the Russian Front, and South Georgia Island in the Pacific.  The maps were usually accompanied by substantial explanatory text providing more detail on the areas and actions depicted.

NewsMaps were issued in at least two editions.  The “Overseas Edition” was relatively small, some 17” by 23”, presumably to reduce the cost of rapid shipping by plane.  The “Industrial Edition,” ten examples of which are offered here, was very large (35” by 47”) and intended for domestic distribution, usually folded for mailing in an envelope. Physically fragile and ephemeral in nature, the vast majority of all the posters must have perished at an early date.  As a result, while they are frequently encountered on the market, individual issues should be considered scarce and possibly rare.

Many of the “Industrial Edition” Newsmaps were printed double-sided.  The verso would at times feature additional maps and text depicting current events, but many printed educational material of use to soldiers, such as how to recognize enemy planes or protect oneself against a gas attack.  Of these, one of my favorites is the verso of the November 8, 1943 Newsmap, which features This is Ann…She Drinks Blood, drawn by Theodore Geisel and urging soldiers to protect themselves against malaria.  Yet others printed propagandistic exhortations of a more general nature, for example encouraging viewers on the home front to avoid wasting material that could aid the war effort, or buy war bonds.  As with the maps, these educational and propagandistic pieces used bold colors, eye-catching graphic design, and catchy language, and are both fascinating period pieces and eminently displayable.

NewsMaps in general are found with frequency on the market for vintage Second World War material. However, presumably because the American war effort was still ramping up, examples from 1942 are far more scarce than later editions. I have been seeking this particular NewsMap since I sold one more than five years ago, and this is the first one I have been able to scare up.

In all, a striking, rare and intriguing artifact of the Federal Government’s mammoth communications effort during the Second World War.

OCLC 60828451 lists a dozen institutional holdings as of September 2022, though in fairness I suspect this significantly underrepresents holdings in American libraries.


Folds as issued, a few minor edge tears, else excellent.