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This Clever Map is a Window into 19th Century New York City

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The early 19th century was a time of great change for New York, which had already cemented its status as America’s largest city.

The opening of the Erie Canal helped turn the city into a shipping powerhouse, and there was a building boom on the horizon. Cholera epidemics, fires, and riots swept through the city at various points.

This fascinating interactive map, from Esri, is a snapshot of New York City during the tumultuous time (1836 to be exact), overlaid on the modern-day satellite map.

Getting the Lay of the Land

The base map used above is the stunning “Topographical Map Of The City and County Of New–York, and the adjacent Country”, published by the prodigious mapmaker, Joseph Colton.

For easy viewing, the map’s legend is below:

1836 nyc map legend

This map includes all the usual features, such as roads and prominent buildings, but it also has some clever secondary information built in as well. For one, shading indicates ares that were more built-up at the time. There are also a number of visual techniques to indicate topographical features as well. After all, NYC wasn’t as extensive as it is today, and much of the land depicted in the map is still undeveloped.

The full map is well worth exploring as well, as there are a number of beautiful illustrations throughout.


Tool tip: Click the X on the info bar to hide it. (Mobile: Click the map, then the magnifying glass.)

The Big Picture: New York City in 1836

At this point in time, development in Lower Manhattan extended until about 14th Street, where buildings began to give way to open spaces. The city’s grid pattern was beginning to take shape, following the Commissioners’ Plan laid out in 1811. At the time, New York was anticipating massive growth, and the straightforward grid pattern was an efficient way to prepare the city for rapid expansion.

In the 1800s, fire was an ever-present danger for city dwellers. In fact, a major fire tore through Lower Manhattan a year prior to when this map was published.

great fire nyc 1935 map

Points of Interest

There are a number of points worth visiting on this map.

Transit Begins to Take Shape

In the 1830s, New York City’s first railroad line—horse powered for its first few years—connected Prince Street to the Harlem River, accelerating the city’s expansion northward from Lower Manhattan. This route is still recognizable today as the Harlem Line.

Evolving Shorelines

One very obvious difference between the two maps is how much land has been reclaimed along shorelines in the area. Battery Park City, on the west side of downtown, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard are two prominent examples of infill. Randall’s Island, located near the top of Manhattan, is also an interesting place to observe changes in topography. Randall’s Island is actually made up of three islands that were eventually conjoined in the 1960s.

This interactive map is a great place to explore changes to NYC’s shoreline over time.

Taming the Landscape

Midtown Manhattan is worth zooming into for a couple of reasons. First, the outline of Central Park is visible, although the park would officially be approved until almost 20 years later.

As well, this topographical map clearly shows the numerous outcroppings spread across the island. Manhattan was far from flat in the 1800s, and it took a tremendous amount of effort—starting with gunpowder, pickaxes, and horse-drawn carts—to level the land.

Looking at these historical maps is a reminder that the New York City we know today is the product of hundreds of years of human effort, and that cities continue to evolve over time.

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Misc

Infographic: The Next Characters to Enter the Public Domain

This infographic shows which popular characters will be entering the public domain over the next 15 years.

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Infographic showing which popular characters that will enter public domain in coming years

The Next Characters to Enter the Public Domain

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Copyright is a type of intellectual property right that protects authors’ original works, meaning that their art cannot be used without approval. However, copyright protections do not last forever—eventually, all original work will enter the public domain.

In this graphic, we visualize the popular characters that are set to enter the public domain in the next 15 years, using data compiled from several sources.

How Does a Character Enter the Public Domain?

The amount of time a given work is protected by copyright varies, but this window typically lasts 70 years after the author’s death or 95 years after publication. Once the copyright expires, the work enters the public domain, signaling time for anyone to enjoy and interact with them without legal repercussions.

Which Characters Will Have Their Copyrights Expire Next?

The Brothers Grimm version of Snow White has already had its copyright expire. However, Disney’s iconic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs version will only enter public domain in 2032.

On January 1st, 2024, the Steamboat Willie versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse entered public domain (and already, content creators are seizing the opportunity). The modern version of Mickey Mouse will follow suit in roughly 15 years.

Below is a list of popular characters that will be entering the public domain in coming years.

CharacterYear expected to enter the public domain
Sleeping Beautyalready public domain
Snow Whitealready public domain
Pinocchioalready public domain
Peter Panalready public domain
Tinkerbellalready public domain
Captain Hookalready public domain
Winnie-the-Poohalready public domain
Mickey Mouse (Steamboat Willie version)already public domain
Minnie Mouse (Steamboat Willie version)already public domain
Popeye2025
Pluto2026
Betty Boop2026
Goofy2028
Donald Duck2029
King Kong2029
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (Disney version)2032
Superman2034
Bugs Bunny2035
Batman2035
Joker2036
Captain America2036
Wonder Woman2037
Mickey Mouse (Disney version)2037
Bambie2038

Several of Mickey’s companions—including Pluto (2026), Goofy (2028), and Donald Duck (2029)—will be entering public domain in the next five years along with Betty Boop (2026), King Kong (2029), and Bugs Bunny (2035).

The copyright on many of DC Comics’ stars—like Superman, Batman, the Joker, and Wonder Woman—will expire in the 2030s.

If you found this interesting, check out this visualization on the world’s top media franchises of all-time by revenue.

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