An Introduction to TopoView

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Detailed Description

A tutorial by USGS scientist and topoView developer Chris Garrity demonstrating how to use topoView to access maps from the USGS historical topographic map collection.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:10:03

Location Taken: Reston, VA, US


Topoview, a product of the U.S. Geological
Survey, lets you access and download maps

free of charge from USGS historical topographic
map collection, published between 1884 and


Getting Around
There are a few ways to navigate around the

archives of over 178,000 maps.

In TopoView, pan is enabled by default, so
you can click anywhere on the map, hold the

left mouse button, and drag the mouse.

To zoom into an area, we offer standard zoom
tools on the left side of the interface.

However, most users find it easier to simply
hold down the shift key and drag a box over

their area of interest, or use the mouse scroll
wheel for zooming in or out.

Use the next and back arrows to toggle back
and forth between areas you zoomed to previously.

For users with touch-enabled devices, a simple
multi-touch “pinch” gesture can be used

to zoom into and out of an area.

Location Zooming
When you want to zoom to a specific location,

such as your house, town, or larger area,
use the location tool on the right side of

the interface.

There, you can enter general information,
like a zip code, town name, or geographic

feature, or more specific information, such
as your street address, or lat/lon coordinate


Where Am I?

To zoom to your current location, use the
geolocation tool on the left side of the interface.

If you have geolocation services enabled,
you’ll be instantly zoomed to your current


This is useful for accessing historical maps
located just beneath your feet.

Accessing the Maps
When you click any one of the colored map

boxes, a map information window will appear
in the lower left corner of the screen.

The selected map in the interface will be
highlighted red.

Along the left side of the window, you’ll
see the map name and citation information

about the particular edition that’s being

In this example, we’ve clicked on the San
Francisco quandrangle from 1915.

You’ll notice from the citation information
that this particular map was printed in 1947.

In some cases, reprints may vary slightly
from the original edition.

Later in the video, we’ll see how to compare
editions of a map through table-view.

Downloading a Map
In the center of the map information window,

you’ll see a list of map downloads.

For each map, we’ve provided a variety of
individual file formats in order to meet a

range of user needs.

These formats include high-resolution JPGs,
Google Earth KMZ, GEOPDF, and GEOTIFF.

Simply click any one of them to download.

On the right of the window, you’ll see a
preview of the map.

Click the image to access a high-resolution
image of the map.

Next to the preview image, you’ll see a
counter showing the number of maps that were

published at that particular point.

Above the preview image, you’ll see a number
of controls that let you zoom or pan to the

selected map.

Map Scales
When you launch topoView, you’ll see a grid

of yellow boxes.

These are the 1:250,000 topographic map series,
which are the least detailed of the collection

and cover all of the conterminous United States
and Alaska.

On the right side of the viewer, you’ll
see a map scale selector, which will let you

choose which scale to view.

The scale numbers represent common USGS topographic
map series scales.

In order to provide a compact, but useful
scale selector, we combined maps of similar

scales into the bins you see in the selector

In this example, by clicking on the radio
selector buttons in the map scale box, we

can see the distribution of maps of different
scales around the Seattle area.

The smaller the map scale number, the more
detailed the map is, but the less area it


You can also see all maps of all scales by
clicking the Show All button.

Notice that as we select different map scales,
the map records counter at the bottom of the

interface updates to show the number of maps
currently available.

Much like the scale selector, which allows

you to choose maps by scale, the timeline
filter at the top of the view allows you to

select maps by time.

Simply grab the selector and slide along the
bar to filter maps by time.

As the slider is moved, the year callout updates
to identify what the year being shown is.

As each end of the slider can be moved independently,
it’s helpful when you’re looking for a

set of maps published in a specific range
of dates.

As we’ll see later in the film, powerful
query tools can be used by using both the

timeline and scale selector tools.

The timeline tool is also useful for tracking
the evolution of topographic mapping at the

USGS throughout history.

Map Records Table
As we’ve seen, when you click on a map,

the map counter shows the number of maps that
were published at that location.

If you want to get more information on those
maps, you can view those maps in a map records

table by clicking the map counter button or
the map locator icon above the preview image.

The map records table makes it easier to inspect
and compare maps at a certain point or maps

found through the search tool.

Simply hover or click each map to see additional
information in the map information window.

Note that the extent of the selected record
is marked in red on the interface.

Sorting & Filtering
Table Records can be sorted and filtered to

make browsing more efficient.

Click on the column header of any field to
sort the table by that field.

Clicking column headers multiple times sorts
the table by ascending or descending order.

The table can be sorted by multiple fields
by holding down the shift key and clicking

multiple column headers.

To filter table records, enter text in the
filter results input box at the bottom of

the records table.

The filter searches for character sets anywhere
in the table record.

Overlapping Maps
Since the historical map record contains multiple

maps of the same area over time, there will
naturally be maps that overlap.

When overlapping map boxes are clicked, the
most recent map with the most detailed scale

will be shown by default in the map information

Overlapping older maps can be easily access
by the Table View.

Searching Maps
If you know the name of the map you’re looking

for, you can enter it in the search tool on
the right hand side of the interface.

You can enter the full name or part of the

When a search term is entered, the map information
window and a populated table record will appear.

Only the map boxes that meet your search term
will appear in the interface.

Clear the search terms to restore the map
boxes that were removed by your search filter.

Note that your search results are limited
by the timeline and scale options you’ve


Putting It All Together
For a final example, let’s say I wanted

to find historical maps of the Chicago area
prior to 1930.

To quickly zoom there, I’ll enter Chicago
in my location tool and choose Chicago, IL,

from the list of suggestions.

Since I’m only interested in maps published
prior to 1930, I’ll adjust my timeline slider,

effectively only showing maps published between
1880 and 1930.

Next I’ll choose Show All in the map scale
selector box, since I want to see all available

historical maps for this location.

Comparing the colors of the map boxes shown
on the interface with the map scale legend,

I can see that there are two map scale ranges,
1:24,000 and 1:62,000, that were published

in this area during my selected timeframe.

If I were interested in isolating the scale
ranges, I could simply select the button of

the scale of my choice.

Notice that when individual map scales are
selected, map names appear.

This can be useful if you’re looking for
a particular map name, or if you’re looking

to identify the map names in an area.

Clicking on the city of Chicago shows me that
there are 10 additional maps published of

this location.

To preview these maps, I’ll launch my table
view, where I can hover or click the records

to compare map information.

When I find a map I like, I can jump down
to the map information window to download

or preview the map, then move back to the
table to interact with the additional maps.

When I hover between a 1:24,000 and 1:62,000
map record, I can see that the 1:62,000 covers

a larger area, which makes sense because it
has a less-detailed scale.

Since I’m looking for a single map that
covers the city and neighboring suburbs, this

is my choice.

However, I’d like to find the oldest map
from this set.

To do this, I’ll click on the scale column
heading on my table and sort map scales in

descending order.

Then I’ll hold the shift key and sort the
date column by ascending order, effectively

promoting the oldest 1:62,000 map to the top
of my list.

I can see from the map table that the name
of this map is the Chicago Quandrangle.

Say I want to inspect all maps from the historical
record of the Chicago Quandrangle.

I could simply expand my timeline to include
all available dates that span the collection.

When I click the same point, I can now see
that there are 25 maps published at this location.

When I click the map table, I can see that
there are both Englewood and Chicago maps

published at this location.

Since I’m only interested in the Chicago
maps, I’ll type a “c” in my filter records


Filtering happens dynamically as I type.

This effectively drops all Englewood map records
from the table, as the letter “c” does

not appear in the name Englewood.

Notice too that my map record counter displays
all available maps after I apply my filter.

So, in this case, I can see that there were
14 versions of the Chicago Quandrangle published

over time in the collection.

Additional sorting can be applied just like
to a non-filtered table.

To clear the filter, I click the clear filter
button on the right side of the Filter Record


These are just some of the ways you can navigate
through the historical map collection in topoView.

We invite you to explore the collection and
download any of the maps, free of charge at