The Map that Changed the World

William Smith 1815 geological map

Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with a Part of Scotland (London, Published by J. Cary: August 1st, 1815) by William Smith

Simon Winchester wrote and had published The Map That Changed the World, a wonderful book about the map pictured above in 2001. When and how could a map change the world you ask? When it is the first geological map in 1815 and it shows for the first time where valuable raw materials such coal, oil, iron and tin can be found. This had a huge impact on commerce, industry and all of  humanity at that time.

William Smith had observed the predictable pattern of rock layers or strata while surveying mines and canals, in particular one Somerset Coal Canal. Confirming the repetition of strata at different location, he decided to create a map of the United Kingdom that indicated by color coding which strata could be found where.

This hand-painted watercolor map is as magnificent physically as it was ground-breaking scientifically. You are looking at a 6′ by 9′ foot map with tremendous detail and accuracy.  Being a hand-colored map, no two are exactly alike. This rare and impressive map lives in the Rare Book Room as Milestones of Science 180 and, although it is seldom brought out and unfolded anymore because it needs conservation work, the scanned image allows us to present it digitally for all to see and appreciate.

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