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Mapped: The Territorial Evolution of the U.S.

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evolution of american territorial expansion

Mapped: The Territorial Evolution of the U.S.

The sun (almost) never sets on the American Empire.

The United States is the third largest country in the world, with a vast territory extending beyond the borders of the contiguous states. To be exact, the United States is made up of 50 states, nine uninhabited territories, five self-governing territories, one incorporated territory, and one federal district (Washington D.C.). The boundaries of the country haven’t changed much in recent years, but the lines on the map have shifted numerous times in history, through both negotiation and bloodshed.

Today’s above animation, by u/Golbwiki, is the perfect visual aid to understand how the United States evolved from the Thirteen Colonies to its current form.

Here are five of the largest expansion events in U.S. history.

us territorial expansion map

1803: Louisiana Purchase

Napoléon Bonaparte didn’t just have a huge impact on Europe, he also altered the course of history in the New World as well. The French General was waging an expensive war in Europe, and began to view the Louisiana Territory as a burden – as well as a potential source of income. In 1803, he offered up all 828,000 square miles for the famously low price of $15 million.

This massive land purchase comprises nearly 25% of the current territory of the United States, stretching from New Orleans all the way up to Montana and North Dakota.

1819: Adams–Onís Treaty

Spanish explorers first established a presence in Florida as far back as 1565, but 250 years later, Spain had done little to cement its foothold in the region. The Spanish realized they were in poor position to defend Florida should the U.S. decide to seize it.

In 1819, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams negotiated the signing of the Florida Purchase Treaty, which officially transferred Florida to the United States after years of negotiations. There was no official cost of purchase, but the U.S. government agreed to assume approximately $5 million of claims by U.S. citizens against Spain.

1845: Texas Annexation

The newly created Republic of Texas, which broke away from Mexico in the Texas Revolution, was peacefully annexed by the United States in 1845. In one fell swoop, the U.S. acquired 389,000 square miles of former Mexican territory.

1848: Mexican Cession

Shortly after the Texas Annexation, tensions between Mexico and the U.S. flared up anew.

Congress declared war on Mexico over a boundary dispute in 1846, and after a relatively brief armed conflict – known as the Mexican–American War – the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

The treaty recognized Texas as a U.S. state, and the United States took control of a huge parcel of land that includes the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah, as well as portions of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Mexico received $15 million in the arrangement, but saw the size of their territory halved.

1867: Alaska Purchase

In the aftermath of the Crimean War, Alexander II began exploring the possibility of selling Alaska. Similar to Spain’s foothold in Florida earlier in the century, the Russian Emperor recognized the possibility of American incursions into the territory, which they were not in a good position to defend against.

We must foresee that [the U.S.,] will take the afore-mentioned colonies from us and we shall not be able to regain them.

– Grand Duke Konstantin of Russia

After an all-night negotiation session on March 30, 1867, Alaska was sold to the United States for $7.2 million – the equivalent of $109 million in 2018. Alaska officially became a state in 1959.

Scratching the Surface

The examples above are only a brief overview of the complex evolution of shifting territorial claims in America.

For those who want to take a deep dive into the shifting borders of America, here is an extremely thorough animation, also by the same author:

expansion of U.S. territory

Of course, colonial expansion in North America didn’t occur in a vacuum. For an Native American perspective on this topic, check out this animated map.

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History

A Visual Timeline of the Tallest Historical Structures

From the pyramids to the Eiffel Tower, our creations have scaled dramatically over the centuries. Which have been the world’s tallest structures in history?

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Humans have been building things since the dawn of time. As the tools and technology at our disposal have improved dramatically, so have the scale and magnitude of our creations.

Today’s infographic from Alan’s Factory Outlet visualizes some of the most impressive feats of construction and engineering in a historical timeline of the world’s tallest structures.

The Stone Age: 8000 — 2570 BCE

We’ll begin with one of humanity’s earliest stone monuments.

Experts estimate that the Tower of Jericho in modern-day Palestine, took 11,000 working days to construct—roughly 30 to 40 years—and is thought to have served as flood protection, and to mark the summer solstice. According to some archaeologists, it also inspired awe to “motivate people [into] a communal lifestyle”.
Tallest Part 1
View the full timeline by clicking here.

The next significant structure was built nearly 4,000 years later. The Anu Ziggurat (White Temple) is located in Uruk, the ancient city of Sumer. Towering over the city’s defensive walls and visible from afar, it symbolized the city’s political power at the time.

Egypt’s era of pyramids was ushered in with the Step Pyramid of Djoser. A few decades later, the founding pharaoh Sneferu is credited for the vision behind the three major Egyptian pyramids—the Meidum, Bent, and Red Pyramids of Dahshur. The different designs reflect both the engineering shortfalls and advancements experienced during their construction…eventually leading to the most monumental pyramid of all.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the ancient world wonders, and the only one that is still intact today. It weighs an estimated 6 million tonnes—and rising up at 481 feet (147 meters), it was unsurpassed as the tallest structure for thousands of years.

Cathedral Creation: 1221 — 1549 CE

The timeline below skips ahead over 3,000 years after the construction of the Great Pyramid, as the reign of cathedrals begins to take over, starting with the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1221—which needed over 200 years to complete.
Tallest Structures 2.2
View the full timeline by clicking here.

The Lincoln Cathedral enjoyed its title of tallest structure for over 200 years, until the St. Mary’s Church in Germany was constructed. However, all three of these cathedrals suffered serious damage for some reason or another: towers or spires collapsed, the buildings caught on fire, or were struck by lightning.

From Churches to the Chrysler: 1569 — 1930

The construction of religious monuments continued well into the late 19th century, with the Cathedral of Saint Peter of Beauvais to the Cologne cathedral. Several cathedrals were originally constructed years prior, but only gained the title of tallest structure once the Great Pyramid had significantly eroded by about 33 feet (10 meters).
Tallest Structures 3.2
View the full timeline by clicking here.

The Washington Monument, the world’s tallest obelisk, was created in memoriam of the first U.S. President. Though the majority of the Monument is marble, its apex is aluminum and bears several inscriptions on each face.

The Eiffel Tower likely needs no introduction—the Parisian cultural icon became the tallest in the world in 1889. The wrought-iron lattice structure costed close to 8 million gold Francs, or US$1.5 million to build.

Finally, the Chrysler Building’s art-deco architectural style drew criticism and rave reviews in equal measure. Born out of a skyscraper boom in New York City, it was the first to rise above 1,000 feet—toppling the Eiffel Tower’s tallest title in 1930.

Bigger, Better, Glitzier: 1931 — Present

The “race for the sky” continues with the Empire State Building, an essential contribution to the classic New York City skyline—which cements its place as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Tallest Part 4.2
View the full timeline by clicking here.

Between 1954 and 1991, the tallest man-made constructions were all TV towers, mostly located across the United States, and the Warsaw Radio Mast in Poland. That’s not to say there was a gap in skyscrapers during this time—in fact, it was quite the opposite all around the world.

Saving the best for last, the Burj Khalifa was completed in five years and costed a whopping $1.5 billion. At an impressive 163 floors (2,722 feet or 830 meters), Dubai’s incredible achievement shatters all world records for tallest structures—coming in at nearly 100 times higher than the Tower of Jericho, where this visual timeline first began.

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The History of the World, in One Video

This epic attempt to condense the history of the world — including the rise and fall of empires — fits into a single video.

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Throughout the history of the world, many civilizations have risen and fallen.

You may be familiar with the achievements of prominent societies like the Romans, Mongols, or Babylonians, but how do all of their stories intertwine over time and geography?

Visualizing the History of the World

Today’s video comes to us from Ollie Bye, and it attempts to integrate the histories of all major civilizations known by historians into a single, epic video.

Similar to the Histomap, it’s pretty much impossible for a video like this to be perfect due to biases and a general lack of data. However, it’s still a compelling attempt at showing global history in a short and sweet fashion.

Let’s look at some specific moments on the video that particularly stand out.

750 AD: The Umayyad Caliphate

One of the largest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate peaked sometime around 750 AD.

Umayyad Caliphate

Conquering most of North Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe (including modern-day Spain, Portugal, and France), the Umayyads commanded a formidable territory with an area of 11,100,000 km² (4,300,000 sq. mi) and encompassing 33 million people.

1279: Mongol Dominance

No history of the world is complete without a mention of the Mongols.

Nearby societies have always been on edge when nomadic tribes in the Eurasian Steppe entered into organized confederations. Similar to the Huns or various Turk federations, the Mongols were known for their proficiency with horses, bows, and tactics like the feigned retreat.

Under the leadership of Temüjin ⁠— also known as Genghis Khan ⁠— the Mongols conquered one of the largest empires by land.

Mongol Empire Map

The empire reached its greatest extent just two years after the death of Genghis Khan.

Later on, it fragmented into smaller empires that were also quite notable in the context of world history. For example, Kublai Khan — the grandson of Genghis Khan — even went on to begin the influential Yuan Dynasty in China.

1346: The Black Death

The video also shows other vital stats, such as an estimate of global population through the ages.

In the mid-14th century, you can see this number take a rare U-turn, as millions of people die from the infamous and deadly Bubonic Plague.

Spread of the Black Death

The Black Death ⁠— one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the world ⁠— hit Europe in 1346, and it eventually killed 30-60% of the continent’s population. There is no exact figure on the final death toll, but historians estimate it to be somewhere between 75 and 200 million people throughout Eurasia.

1418: The Age of Discovery

The video also provides a 10,000-foot view of the Age of Discovery, a period of time in which European powers explored the world’s oceans.

The Age of Discovery

This colonial period marks the beginning of globalization, creating wide-ranging impacts that set the stage for more modern history.

In the video, it’s possible to see European colonies develop in all parts of the world, as well as how they eventually morphed into the countries that dot the globe today.

Playing the History Game

While it is certainly ambitious, not everyone will agree that this is a successful attempt at portraying world history – even in the limited scope of time allotted.

One key detail that seems to be missing, for example, is showing the development of the indigenous societies that existed in North America for thousands of years. That said, it’s also not clear what data and records are available to show these maps over many centuries of time.

Despite the possible flaws, the video does pack a lot of information into a short period of time, creating a compelling opportunity for learning and discussion. Like the Histomap, it may not be a definitive history of the world – but instead, it’s a useful attempt that stimulates our appetite for more information about the world and the societies that inhabit it.

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