Walking Cane Maps

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

Long before personal navigation technology became commonplace through the use of GPS enabled smartphones and other handheld devices, cane maps were an innovative way of carrying locational information.  

Walking cane maps fall in the cartifact category of map types. Cartifacts are maps that are more used as part of a design rather than for displaying or navigating geographic information.

First walking cane map

The first walking cane map was created in 1893 for that year’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World Fair).

The 1893 World Fair was held to celebrate 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbia to the New World in 1492. The grounds of the fair covered more than 600 acres.  


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During the six month period from May 1 to October 30, 1893, the event was attended by more than 27 million people (the population of the forty-five states forming the U.S. at the time was about 76 million and Chicago was the second most populous city after New York based on 1890 census data).

Two images showing the front and back of a map rolled out from a walking cane with a silver handle.
The first cane map was created in 1893. Image: Geographicus via Wikipedia, public domain..

The cane was created (and patented) by the Columbian Novelty Company and contained a retractable double sided map published by Aug Gast Bank Note & Litho Company.  

The  Columbian Novelty Company was established for the purpose of creating novelty items for the World Fair.  August Gast was a publisher first based out of St. Louis who also established himself in New York mainly printing checks.

The cane map featured a 10″ x 16″ sheet with maps printed on both sides.  The first side was map of the fairgrounds.  The other side of the map was of Chicago, showing prominent hotels, theaters, and railways.  The cane maps were sold in the gift shops of the World Fair.  The map sheet was spring loaded and retracted by pushing a button on the ornate handle.

Cane maps had their peak during the first half of the 20th century and most of the examples available today seem to be tied to fairs and expositions.  

1939 walking cane map

New York World’s Fair 1939 featured a walking cane with a pullout map created by Tony Sarg, a German-American puppeteer and illustrator, showing a color map of the fairgrounds.

1940 walking cane map

In 1940 a map cane was created by the In-A-Cane Display Company for the American Legion National Convention. Unrolled, the map is of Boston where the 1940 convention was held. Images of the map cane can be viewed on the Cooper Hewitt web site.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.