Comparing Lake Michigan

I was fortunate enough to add this charming, and made all the more so by its diminutive size at less than 4 x 6 inches, lakes comparative to my collection. It’s from Carey & Lea’s 1832 Family Cabinet Atlas and engraved by Hamm.

Principal Lakes of the Western Hemisphere by Carey & Lea, 1832.

While I was examining it I noticed that rather than being shown as is, looking like an elongated kidney bean, Lake Michigan is shown as straight as a board. Mind you this was engraved in 1832. I immediately pulled out 1851 Tallis comparative of western hemisphere features and saw that lake Michigan is shown in its true curved form.

Tallis 1851 comparative of Western Hemisphere features.

Why was this? What happened in the intervening years that begot this change? Were better survey techniques developed? Was the Carey & Lea comparative based on old data? If there was another survey, why, who commissioned it, and who financed it?

I did a little reading but didn’t find any satisfying answers. If you know, please tell me in the comments.

In case you’re wondering, my Tallis is from Barry Lawrence Ruderman’s gallery and my Carey & Lea from Rare Maps and Books.

© Peter Roehrich, 2015

8 thoughts on “Comparing Lake Michigan

  1. Peter – I love to read your blog posts. I know very little about your area of interest but have always – all of my life – loved maps! Actually, maps and weather. We have a NAPS facebook page and I am thinking of starting to re-post interesting alumni events/endeavors/websites etc. Think I will begin with your blog. Sincerely, Devon Clouse


  2. Hello!

    Saw you share this post on the Washington Map Society Facebook page and, though I don’t have any answers for your questions, thought you might appreciate a few more Great Lakes maps / images / carto-caricatures.

    I’ve collected some here:

    I’d also be interested in learning about the change over time in depictions of the area if and when you find out more!


    1. Thanks Amanda! These are great maps/views! I noticed a couple from the early 1800s also show Lake Michigan as straight.

      I’ll pass along anything I find out. As they are my own photos, you’re invited to post the images from this post on your blog if you wish, but please link back to this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Have you explored the possibility that Lake Michigan was, in fact, straight, and only curved over time? It’s possible both maps are accurate. Lake Michigan has always been the sort of conniving water feature to get up to such mischief.


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