The Bird's-Eye-View of the Business District of Chicago, published by Poole Brothers in 1898, puts a Chicago spin on a long tradition of urban imagery. Bird’s-eye views of towns and cities were quite common in European art by the sixteenth century. Defined by their vantage point, historians have variously referred to the prints as cavalier views, perspective views, or panoramic maps.
In North America, a highly popular tradition of printed city views emerged in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and continued through the turn of the twentieth century. Virtually all of the American views were rendered in reproducible forms, chiefly as printed wall decorations or illustrations in periodicals and books. Publishers produced such aerial views to promote tiny hamlets and major metropolises alike. The appeal of the prints turned on the presentation of local subject matter that combined artistic design and imagination with cartographic legibility and precision. Although the prints were adapted to numerous purposes, from home decorations to advertising the enterprises shown in the pictures, they all served the larger cause of civic boosterism.
Poole Brothers began in the nineteenth century as a printer of railroad tickets and maps and in the twentieth century flourished as a printer of periodicals and school textbooks. In issuing the Bird's-Eye-View of the Business District of Chicago, Poole Brothers demonstrated its keen awareness of the popular market for urban vistas. Functionally speaking, panoramic views shared many characteristics with conventional maps, tracing the ground plan of the city's streets and environmental features, and offering advice about transportation routes and property ownership. But they also showed the physiognomy of individual buildings and complexes, which enabled them to promote specific impressive buildings. The city pictured in the view was considerably tidier than contemporary urban reality. The streets and buildings are perfectly clean and show no signs of wear and tear. The smoke that blackened the actual city appears as decorative puffs. The sense of movement conveyed by the numerous trains, steamboats, and trolleys adds a note of bustle to the scene. Several of the moveable bridges across the river are swung open and demonstrate their clever engineering and readiness to accommodate commercial water traffic.
See also: Boosterism on the Prairie
Dillon, Diane. “Consuming Maps.” In Maps: Finding Our Place in the World, edited by James R. Akerman and Robert W. Karrow, Jr. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Holland, Robert. Chicago in Maps: 1612-2002. New York: Rizzoli, 2005.
Kasson, John F. Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. New York: Hill & Wang, 1991.
Reps, John W. Views and Viewmakers of Urban America: Lithographs of Towns and Cities in the United States and Canada, Notes on the Artists and Publishers, and a Union Catalog of Their Work, 1825-1925. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984.
The Library of Congress. “Panoramic Photographs.” http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?st=grid&co=pan
Bird's-eye-view of the Business District of Chicago. Chicago: Poole Bros., 1898. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, G4104.C6A3 1898 .P6