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15 Vintage Online Map Collections to Explore

You can travel far and pay no fare (aside from your internet service fee) through the wealth of online map collections. While not the same as handling a geographic tool that was intended as a tactile object, these 15 collections let you explore vintage subway maps, globes from the Enlightenment, and real and imagined worlds.

1. DAVID RUMSEY HISTORICAL MAP COLLECTION 

Arguably the best online resource for maps has long been an incredible private collection one man decided to freely share with the public. The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection concentrates on cartography between the 16th and 21st centuries. Digitizing started in 1996, and now more than 70,000 objects are online, from celestial atlases to nautical charts. In 2009, David Rumsey donated his over 150,000 maps to Stanford University, which this April opened the David Rumsey Map Center to provide physical access to the collection.

2. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

The Library of Congress began sharing digitized materials online in 1994, with numerous map collections now available to survey, with a focus on American history. Maps date back to the 17th century, with subjects such as land designated as National Parks, American railroad maps from 1828 to 1900, fire insurance maps, topographical sketches by Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss, puzzle maps, World War II military situation maps, and late 19th to early 20th-century illustrated panoramic maps. The Library of Congress’s Worlds Revealed blog regularly highlights material in these collections, whether "mapping alpinist elephants" or examining imaginary maps from literature.

3. HARVARD MAP COLLECTION

As the oldest map collection in the United States, Harvard University holds some 400,000 maps and 6,000 atlases, many of which are online in their Virtual Collection. They include nautical charts, antiquarian maps dating back to the 16th century, and large-scale maps still used in college classrooms. Many of these are on the Harvard Geospatial Library, so you can interact with them as overlays with GPS coordinates. And if you’re in the Cambridge neighborhood before September 26, the Map Gallery Hall at Harvard's Pusey Library is hosting an exhibition on National Park maps to celebrate their conservation.

4. PERSUASIVE CARTOGRAPHY AT CORNELL UNIVERSITY 

Part of Cornell University Library's Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, the PJ Mode Collection of "persuasive" cartography comprises maps that emphasize opinion over geographic truth. Among the 310 maps online, you can find a 1904 anti-Russian map from Japan where the country is a grotesque octopus grasping countries around the world, an illustration from an 1894 issue of Puck Magazine with a Catholic cardinal's devil-shaped shadow falling across a map of the United States, and an 1855 cross-section of hell inspired by Dante's Inferno.

5. ATLAS OF THE HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE UNITED STATES AT UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND

The 1932 Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States by Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright is a titan of geography, with maps charting the centuries of change in the development of the United States. In 2013, the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond launched an online version, with over 700 maps available to explore, many animated to demonstrate their documented changes over time. Each offers some in-depth insight on history, whether the 19th-century displacement of indigenous people, the progression of women’s suffrage, or the disappearance of the forests from 1620 to 1926.

6. BODLEIAN MAP ROOM

The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford have a stunning map room with coastal navigation maps from the 15th to 18th centuries, WWI trench maps, and thorough survey maps. For those not able to journey to the City of Dreaming Spires, their online showcase includes among its many digitizations an impressive high-resolution image of the 16th-century Sheldon tapestry map of Gloucestershire [PDF]. Zoom in close and see the delicate stitching on rivers, trees, homes, and hills emerge on the early modern textile map.

7. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 

National Geographic features many contemporary maps on a dedicated section of their website, often in conjunction with articles, covering topics such as the spread of ebola and earthquakes in Nepal. Vintage maps can also be found, like the 1889 route of the Abraham Lincoln funeral train, and incredibly specific resources like a 1960s chart of the magazine’s cartographic typefaces.

8. NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY FIRE INSURANCE MAPS

The New York Public Library has a large collection of online maps on international cartography. However, one of their greatest resources is local, with most of their 9000 pages digitized from 162 atlases being fire insurance maps, many for New York City. These show the city at an intense level of detail, with its building footprints, lot dimensions, and owners. You can even help improve their digital accuracy through an online game called Building Inspector.

9. DIGITAL PUBLIC LIBRARY OF AMERICA

The Digital Public Library of America is not one collection, but an online discovery tool launched in 2013 for libraries and other institutions across the country. Among its web-only exhibitions are two related to maps, with one focused on cartography in American culture, exploring westward expansion, tourism, and the decline of the forests, along with novelties like a map of folklore music. Another highlights how the country was pulled apart during the Civil War, with a circular panoramic view of the Gettysburg Battlefield from 1866, as well as maps of fortifications at 1863 Richmond.

10. OSHER MAP LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE

The Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine recently started an initiative to digitize their 3D globes, objects which were meant to be touched, and are now too fragile. The library has around 300 globes, dating back to the 17th century. Already available for digital spinning is a gorgeous 1603 celestial globe by Willem Janszoon Blaeu covered with constellations, and a 1792 celestial globe by Giovanni Maria Cassini showing the progression of astronomical knowledge.

11. BRITISH LIBRARY 

Among the thousands of maps at the British Library is a tiny example on a 2000-year-old Roman coin, and the 16th-century first atlas of Europe by Gerardus Mercator. This collection has an overwhelming amount of geographic information for the amateur cartographer, yet the library offers many accessible highlights online, including a 17th-century terrestrial globe from China, aerial views of Dutch Baroque gardens from the 18th century, and panoramic views of London before and after the Great Fire of 1666.

12. USGS HISTORICAL TOPOGRAPHIC MAP COLLECTION

The United States Geological Survey has the absolute best geographic resource on the physical features of the American landscape, and its nearly 200,000 historical topographic maps are available to the public through the Historical Topographic Map Collection. While the TopoView offers online views, you can also purchase printed maps—valuable for preparing for a hike or building a highway. 

13. NORMAN B. LEVENTHAL MAP CENTER

The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at Boston Public Library has over 200,000 maps, with recent online initiatives including a portal for over 1500 maps from 1750 to 1800 related to the American Revolutionary War. There are hundreds of maps of local interest on 19th-century Boston, and nearly 600 bird's-eye view maps. Many go back to the 16th century, when aerial views had to be illustrated from ground-level measurements and imagination, and later in the 19th century when cartographers employed hot air balloons.

14. NYC SUBWAY

Unaffiliated with the MTA, the NYCSubway.org site exclusively offers maps of the New York City subway. They date back to the system’s formation in the 19th century, with 1880 to 1900 survey maps to prepare for tunneling, midcentury charts from when the subway was run by three companies, and maps created specifically for the 1964 World's Fair.

15. BRITISH MAGAZINE MAPS AT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

Michigan State University has among its scans of African and North American maps (which are especially rich for the Great Lakes State) an intriguing collection of 18th-century British magazine maps. The Gentleman's Magazine regularly illustrated military engagements and other current or historic events through maps. Some are religious, like a map of the Garden of Eden "before God Destroy'd it with the Flood." Others show lead mines in Cumberland in 1751, plans for settling new colonies from 1769, and layouts for aspirational American country towns from 1770, before the Revolution dashed those geographical hopes.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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