Cane Maps

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Long before personal navigation technology became commonplace through the use of GPS enabled smartphones and other handheld devices, cane maps were an innovative way of carrying locational information.  The first cane map was created in 1893 for that year’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World Fair).

The 1893 World Fair was held to celebrate 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbia to the New World in 1492. The grounds of the fair covered more than 600 acres.  During the six month period from May 1 to October 30, 1893, the event was attended by more than 27 million people (the population of the forty-five states forming the U.S. at the time was about 76 million and Chicago was the second most populous city after New York based on 1890 census data).

The cane was created (and patented) by the Columbian Novelty Company and contained a retractable double sided map published by Aug Gast Bank Note & Litho Company.  The  Columbian Novelty Company was established for the purpose of creating novelty items for the World Fair.  August Gast was a publisher first based out of St. Louis who also established himself in New York mainly printing checks.

The cane map featured a 10″ x 16″ sheet with maps printed on both sides.  The first side was map of the fairgrounds.  The other side of the map was of Chicago, showing prominent hotels, theaters, and railways.  The cane maps were sold in the gift shops of the World Fair.  The map sheet was spring loaded and retracted by pushing a button on the ornate handle.

The first cane map was created in 1893.
The first cane map was created in 1893. Image: Geographicus via Wikipedia, public domain.

Cane maps had their peak during the first half of the 20th century and most of the examples available today seem to be tied to fairs and expositions.  This 1940 map cane was created by the In-A-Cane Display Company for the American Legion National Convention.

1940 Cane Map
1940 Cane Map. Source: Cooper Hewitt

Unrolled, the map is of Boston where the 1940 convention was held.


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1 thought on “Cane Maps”

  1. Fabulous! Do you know of any pictures or movies with someone using one ‘in the field’, so to speak? I can imagine a murder mystery where the bad guy checks his map under a gaslight.

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