The Northern Pacific was chartered in 1864 and planned to build a rail line connecting the Great Lakes with Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. In return for thus opening the Northern Tier of the United States to settlement, Congress granted the railroad tens of millions of acres of land. This was to be sold to settlers to raise funds for construction, and in turn the new settlers would create demand for the railroad’s services… a virtuous cycle.
However, the Northern Pacific’s planned route was through a landscape marked by harsh climate and/or difficult terrain, and construction costs were far higher than anticipated. Land sales alone could not meet the need, and construction did not begin until Jay Cooke stepped in and provided financing in 1870. Cooke funded his investment by issuing the famous “7-30” bonds, which offered a guaranteed yield of 7 3/10% in gold if held to maturity.
A relentless marketer, Cooke & Co. issued a flood of promotional material on behalf of the Northern Pacific and his 7-30 bonds, including the most unusual map offered here. Issued in 1872, the map depicts the United States north of the 35th parallel along with much of Canada, with topography shown by hachuring, major river systems indicated, and rail routes delineated by heavy black lines. Most prominent of all, naturally, is that of the Northern Pacific, though at the time the route was largely aspirational: actual track had only been laid from Duluth to some way into Dakota, as well as from the Columbia River toward Puget Sound.
At far right a long column of text does triple duty: First, it promotes the supposedly superb qualities of its tens of millions of acres of land, available “at low prices on long credit.”
“The Fertile Belt of country… now being developed by the rapid[!] construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad, is hardly surpassed by any area of like extent on the continent for excellence of climate, abundance and diversity of resources, and capacity for sustaining a dense population.”
At the same time, the text promotes the Railroad itself as a good bet, on account of its superior route, excellent connections, and abundant income expected from land sales. Last but not least, it pitches Cooke’s 7-30 bonds “as a profitable and safe investment for all classes.”
The map employs two unusual techniques to lure investors and settlers. One of these is a set of isothermal lines, collectively designed to emphasize the “excellence of climate” of the region to be served by the Northern Pacific Railroad. One shows the supposed “northern limit of the profitable cultivation of wheat,” while another equates the climate of Saskatchewan with that of “Chicago, Cleveland, Harrisburg, Southern France, Lombardy, and the wheat-growing districts of Southern Russia!” The other is the polar projection map inset at upper right, which depicts the Northern Pacific’s links to an intercontinental transportation network, all abetted by favorable currents in the Pacific.
Cooke’s firm folded just a few years later, however, in no small part driven under by the Northern Pacific’s staggering construction costs. The ensuing Panic of 1873 all but halted progress for several years, and the Northern Pacific line was finally completed in 1883, nearly 20 years after it was first chartered.
OCLC 54645309 and 1125949912, giving holdings at Harvard, Minnesota Historical, University of Chicago, the University of Illinois and Yale (April 2020). Phillips, Maps of America, p. 622. Not in Modelski, Railroad Maps.