I spotted the latest framed Chariton page from Alfred Theodore Andreas’s magnum opus, the 1875 “Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa,” leaning against the wall in an office during a meeting up on the square last week.
The owner told us he had received the page from his brother, who had found it in an antiques shop. Now framed, it was headed for his office wall.
That’s the way most of us see parts of that mighty atlas these days. Its pages sold separately tend to be worth more than the bound total. And I’m not implying that there’s anything in particular wrong with that, although in a way it’s sad. But the atlas is not exactly endangered --- yet. And I’m grateful when someone from Lucas County rescues an orphaned Lucas County page.
The centerpiece of what I call the Chariton page is this amazing bird’s eye view of the town as it appeared during 1874 or 1875 drawn by an unknown artist. There was no aerial photography in 1874-75 remember, no Google maps to rely upon. Despite that, it is astonishingly accurate.
Roughly 23,000 copies of the vast 600-page Andreas atlas were printed in 1875. Almost 100 years later, in 1970,The State Historical Society of Iowa, captained at the time by William J. “Steamboat Bill” Petersen, issued 12,000 reproductions, reduced in size by a third (9 by 12 inches as opposed to 14 ½ by 17 ½).
I have a copy of the reproduction and use it at least once a week if not more often. The reproduction was mailed as a membership bonus to all 10,000 society members, but mine was purchased at a used book sale in Forest City in 1975 (I’d allowed my membership to lapse while in Vietnam). To heck with the Bible. If headed for a desert island, this is a book I’d take along.
The atlas was at the time and remains in some ways the most comprehensive reference ever compiled about Iowa. In addition to full-page maps of all 99 counties (some counties in less developed parts of the state were combined in double-page spreads), it contains 220 portraits of Iowans, 198 plats of Iowa cities and towns, 587 engravings of homes, farms, businesses and churches and a wealth of statistical and other data, including brief histories of all the counties.
It is estimated that a small army of 300 or more worked full-time for more than a year and a quarter to produce it, beginning in 1874 and concluding with publication, complete by July 1, 1875. The boots-on-the-ground troops consisted of artists, cartographers, writers and salesmen who blanketed the state. The support staff, in Chicago where the Andreas Atlas Co. was headquartered, consisted of more writers, editors, engravers, typesetter, printers and Andreas himself, editor in chief.
Field troops approached the state methodically, and as soon as one section of it had been completely canvassed, information gathered, maps compiled and portraits and scenes drawn, production work began in Chicago. Sections of the atlas were printed gradually as copy became available in signatures (groups of pages) which were assembled and bound at the end. This led to the only major glitch in the atlas --- a few problems with pagination because the number of pages in some sections of the atlas had to be reduced when sales did not meet expectations.
The atlas was sold on a subscription basis with payment due upon receipt. I don’t know what the subscription price was, but 206 Lucas Countyans ordered copies. Their names, places of residence, businesses, nativities, post offices and the dates they arrived in Iowa are listed in the Patron’s Directory.
The homes of rural patrons also were located on the county map. A patron could buy additional space in the atlas for an engraving of himself, his home, his farm, his horse --- just about anything --- if he cared to do so.
Once published, the atlas worked hard for a living. It became the standard reference concerning Iowa for many years in thousands of private and public offices and other businesses. That may be why so many of the atlases are not in the greatest of shape --- in constant use, the bindings broke, covers came off, pages were torn.
The atlas was a remarkable achievement at a time when there were no speedy forms of transportation and communication was slow, too. Data could not be transmitted instantly from Des Moines to Chicago, for example, by any means other than telegraph.
A.T. Andreas himself was a New York boy, born May 29, 1839, in Amity. He arrived in Dubuque in 1857, remaining there as a clerk and teacher until 1860, when he moved to Illinois to teach. After Civil War service from Illinois, he settled in Davenport where he married Sophia Lyter.
Not long after, he went to work in Illinois for a firm that produced massive county wall maps. Andreas had the bright idea of cutting these maps into township-size bites and binding township pages with pages of engravings and other printed material into the county atlases we’re now familiar with.
After going into business for himself as an atlas publisher, he published a few county atlases as well as a Minnesota state atlas (on which he lost money) before launching the mighty Illustrated Historical Atlas of Iowa.
He continued in this line of work for many years, publishing many other county and state atlases and histories, including the vast “History of the State of Kansas” by William G. Cutler; an equally vast history of Nebraska; and a three-volume history of Chicago.
Andreas was living temporarily at New Rochelle in Westchester County, New York, when he died at age 60 on Feb. 10, 1900. His body was returned to Davenport for burial in Oakdale Cemetery.
Nearly everyone interested in cartography or local history recognizes the name “Andreas.” Few think about the fact Alfred Theodore was behind it all. That’s something that deserves to be remembered.
Note: Steamboat Bill Petersen’s introduction to the 1970 reissue of the Andreas atlas was the source for most of the detailed information here.