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Examining Our Past: Historical Map Collection Now Online

A 1926 USGS topographic map of Hollywood, CA—an era when movies were still made without sound.

The USGS has approximately 180,000 high-resolution digital images of historical USGS topographic maps now available online. Some images are dated as far back as 1884. The USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection includes published U.S. maps of all scales and editions and are offered at no cost as a georeferenced digital download or as a scanned print from the USGS Store.

Historical maps are used by scientists, engineers, urban planners, historians, and travelers alike. They make a great display on a wall or to get a view of what an area looked like 100 years ago. Planners can see what used to be a natural water flow now changed by an earthquake, a flood, or a manmade structure. A person can see what development changes have taken place since the map was created, or simply notice what used to be a lake and is now dried up.

The collection provides ready access to maps that are not readily available in print and are being updated by the new generation of US Topo maps. Georeferencing of the map files—that is, tying them to a known earth coordinate system—enables them to be imported into Geographic Information Systems so that they can be overlain with other geospatial (map) data from other sources, such as from The National Map.

Both the US Topo and historical topographic maps in PDF format with geospatial extensions (GeoPDF®) are available on the Web at no cost. Free tools allow users to determine coordinates, measure distances and angles between points, measure areas, track positions using a GPS device, display coordinates in various map projections and datums, turn layers on and off, zoom in and out, and print the map image.

The entire historical topographic map collection in GeoPDF format is available in the USGS Store. GeoPDFs are for use by anyone wanting these maps for general reference or to be able to print a copy. Check at http://nationalmap.gov/historical for updates. Historical topographic maps will also begin to be available through The National Map Viewer in GIS compatible TIFF format later in 2012. These files are primarily for use by spatial analysts or researchers.

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