The Man of Commerce … an extraordinary allegorical map of the United States

A[ugustus] F[rank] McKay (1850-1918) / Land & River Improvement Co. (publisher?) / Rand, McNally & Co. (printer), THE MAN OF COMMERCE[:] A CHART SHOWING The resemblance between the arteries of commerce, as represented by railroads, and the arterial system of man; also, the resemblance between the great vital organs of man and the commercial system of the great lakes. Superior, WI: Land & Improvement Company, 1889.
Lithograph, 31 ¾”h x 50 ¼”w plus margins, full printed color. Mounted on original dowels. Some mends and reinforcements, and some discoloration along lower edge, but in remarkably good condition for such a fragile map.

An amazing map equating the American transportation network with the form and functions of the human body. Only the third example located. Incontestably one of the greatest American persuasive maps of the 19th century.

This map was produced for promotional purposes, to highlight the advantages of Superior, Wisconsin as a manufacturing and transportation hub. The image consists of an outline map of North America, over which is superimposed a cutaway diagram of the human body. Major bones, muscles, organs and nerves are named, and many are identified with specific geographic regions: For example, the Lake Michigan region is equated with the liver; Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario the colon; New York the “umbilicus;” James Bay the spleen; the Gulf of St. Lawrence the rectum[!]; and “West Superior becomes the center of the cardiac or heart circulation.” In a nice touch, the sciatic nerve is identified with the trans-Atlantic cable.  Completing the metaphor, the major arteries of the human circulatory system are laid out, with each equated to one of the nation’s major rail lines and many converging on the “heart” at Superior.

Use of the human body as a cartographic metaphor reaches back at least as far as the 16th century, to the anthropomorphic map of Europe as a queen in Sebastian Munster’s Cosmography (1570).  However, this is by far the most detailed application of the metaphor I have seen, and it is possibly the first time the metaphor was applied to North America.

The map is extraordinarily rare, and I am aware of but two other examples, one at the American Geographical Society Library in Madison, Wisconsin and another in a Midwest private collection. Further evidence of the map’s rarity its absence from the archive of the Rand McNally Company at the Newberry Library.

The First Treaty of La Pointe (1847) between the U.S. Government and the Chippewa tribe opened up the region south and west of Lake Superior to development. Subsequently the city of Superior, Wisconsin was established in 1854 at the intersection of the Great Lakes, the St. Louis River and the Northern Pacific Railway, with the intent of developing a national hub for manufacturing, shipping and transportation.

This vision was interrupted by the Panic of 1857 and the Civil War, however, and the city languished until John Henry Hammond (1833-1890) saw the area’s potential. A New York City native, Hammond moved with his widowed mother to Kentucky at an early age. Trained as a civil engineer, he joined the Union Army with the outbreak of the Civil War, serving as adjutant General under Sherman before obtaining his own independent cavalry command. After the war he worked in the banking, railroad and real estate sectors in the South and then the Midwest, then served briefly as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Dakota Territory.

In 1886 Hammond purchased a large tract of land in the western end of Superior; organized the Land & River Improvement Company; and established a rail line with its headquarters in the town. The Company set about creating what a business-friendly environment, granting rights-of-way to major rail roads and developing the infrastructure to support large industries and a major transportation hub. Hammond’s vision was realized: by 1900 the population of Superior reached 31,000, and in 1930 it was 46,000, though it has since declined.

One of the finest American persuasive maps of the 19th century, on par with the Gerrymander and the Porcineograph, but of the three by far the rarest.

OCLC 1133288798, giving but a single example at the American Geographical Society Library in Madison, acquired some years ago from this firm. Not in the Newberry Library Cartographic Catalog, Phillips, or Rumsey. Another example located in a private collection. The map is discussed in Leah M. Thomas, “Beauty and Commerce: Central Africa and Virginia in Sir Robert Dudley’s Arcano del Mare”, The Portolan, no. 100 (Winter 2017), pp. 37-38, with an illustration of the AGS example. Background on Superior from Wikipedia and from J.H. Beers & Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lakes Region (Chicago: 1905), pp. 4-5.


Few minor areas of discoloration and some small cracks, else excellent