Iowa & Nebraska Land Buyer's Guide (1875)

Few American institutions made more aggressive use of promotional maps and images than the railroad companies of the Middle and Far West The stage was set by federal land grants made to railroad companies. The railroads, in turn, either developed the land themselves or sold it through land offices and agents, such S. M. Knox, of Princeton, Ill., whose name is stamped in red ink on the upper right of the publication. These sales not only generated revenue for the railroads to support their construction, but also helped ensure the economic development of the geographical corridors the lines served. Economic stakes were high. Many railroads went bankrupt because of the volatility of the American economy in the 1870s, as well as competition among themselves as they sought markets for comparable lands and services at the same time.

Cheap advertising pamphlets and handbills, such as this newspaper-style “guide”–issued by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company in 1875– often distorted the quality and geographical situation of the lands offered for sale. The map at far left shows the railroad’s lands in southern Iowa and southeastern Nebraska in some detail. The transcontinental map at right greatly compresses geography from east to west and north to south so as to position the railroad in the apparent middle of what the map calls “The Gulf Stream of Migration.” The other railroads completed or under construction on the Great Plains are purposely omitted, so that all the railroads of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic seem to be leading almost exclusively to this one route.



Modelski, Andrew M. Railroad Maps of North America: The First Hundred Years. Washington: Library of Congress, 1984.

Musich, Gerald. "Mapping a Transcontinental Nation: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century American Rail Travel Cartography." In Cartographies of Travel and Navigation, ed. James R. Akerman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

White, Richard. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.



“Everywhere West: Daily Life along the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. The Newberry Library.

Iowa & Nebraska Land Buyer’s Guide (Burlington, Iowa: Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company, 1875). The Newberry Library, Map 4F G4151.G4 1875 .F5