Map of the day

Source – Cornell University

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Three Approaches to the United States

Drawn by Richard Edes Harrison in 1940.

This famous set of three maps by Richard Edes Harrison appeared more than a year before Pearl Harbor, but at a time when Germany had captured most of Western Europe and the Battle of Britain had begun. Henry Luce, the publisher of Time, Life and Fortune magazines, was the most powerful American media figure of his era, and his concern about American isolationism and our lack of military preparedness was increasingly reflected in his publications. Baughman 2001, 2-3, 120.

These maps illustrate an extensive article about the readiness of US military forces, captioned “Our line of minimum physical security stretches from Alaska to the Galapagos, from Greenland to the Amazon Valley. Have we the ‘with what’ to hold it??

Harrison presents three different vulnerabilities: to a German attack over the Pole, through Canada; to a Japanese attack from the Northern Pacific (the point from which the Pearl Harbor raid was launched); and to an attack on the East Coast from South America.

In each case, his map looks down on the earth from a different point and direction. And by presenting the three views on a single page, Harrison powerfully conveys the scale of the nation’s potential exposure. The extensive text emphasizes the point; for example, it notes ?a transportation system that could put a fully equipped army of half a million men into Seattle in a matter of days – if we had the army.?

Richard Edes Harrison was an American artist whose remarkably innovative maps during World War II and thereafter helped Americans better understand the shrinking world in which they lived. “His techniques defied convention and created a new standard for the look and shape of the world on a map.

Harrison designed the maps to be both visually appealing and politically charged, reflecting the urgency of the war while also maintaining an elegant artistic dimension.” Schulten 1998, 174. He had been trained in architecture and design rather than as a cartographer, and that background “enabled him to break from convention.” Ibid. 175. The collection includes a number of Harrison’s maps, mostly from this period; for another excellent example, see ID #1297, ID #2130, The World Divided (1941).