Explore Maps of the United States from 1884 to 2006

Caitlin Dempsey


The U.S. Geological Survey and Esri are working together to make over 178,000 maps of the United States available to the public via an online map explorer.  The USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer lets users browse the extensive collection of scanned maps.  Since its official launch in September of 2011, the USGS has led an effort to scan its historical maps collection and make it available to the public as GeoPDFs.   Now the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer application allows users to access the historical maps as high resolution georeferenced images for use in web mapping applications, and features a timeline to easily select the desired maps.

“We are so pleased to see these historic topographic maps being made more accessible to the nation,” said Kevin Gallagher, associate director of Core Science Systems for the USGS. “We recognize the fundamental role of government in acquiring mapping information and putting it in the public domain.  At the same time, we recognize the tremendous benefits of the private industry adding value through innovative approaches to access and distribution.”

Using the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

Esri has provided instructions on using the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer:

  1. Go to the weblink: http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com/usgs/
  2. Find/search the place of your choice and click on the map.
  3. Select maps in the timeline.
  4. Move the slider bar to see the changes over time.
  5. Share it with friends.
  6. Save a copy of the maps to your desktop.

USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer App

Later this month, the app will be available in GitHub, allowing the GIS community to create their own scanned and geo-referenced collection, configure the app, and see these digital collections come to life.

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“We are pleased to partner with the USGS on this app to bring this national treasure to life,” said Jack Dangermond, president, Esri. “This application provides an easy way for anyone to explore the historic map collection by both place and time. The ArcGIS platform supports the building and sharing of amazing maps and content, such as this wonderful collection.”

Discover the past using the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

First launch the app at: http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com/usgs/

Find and zoom to an area of interest. You can locate an area by searching in the search box or zooming and panning the map.


To see available maps, click on the map.  Using the timeline, explore the different maps and scale. (Move your mouse over a timeline item to preview and click to select one or more maps.)  Use the slider to move between maps.



Click on the map thumbnail in the slider window to see that map overlain onto the main map window.  You can load multiple maps and rearrange the order in which they are loaded in the slide section to the left of the main map window.

When ready, download the maps or share the app with your selected maps.






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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.