Library of Congress

Foreshortened Boston

TitleBird's Eye View of Boston
CreatorGeo. H. Walker & Co.
Dimensions42 × 63 cm
LocationLibrary of Congress Geography and Map Division
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This view of Boston is shown from such a strange perspective that even someone who is deeply familiar with the city might take a few seconds to get their bearings. Why would you want to depict the city from a point of view hovering in the air just southwest of Camden Street, with Boston's most famous and recognizable landmarks, like the Common and the Harbor, shrunk down to distant specks on the horizon?

Well, you might want to do that if you were the owners of the Beach & Clarridge Co., makers of the “world famed highest standard cream of fruits soda water flavors.” In this bird's-eye view, the B&C factory is bright, richly colored, and enormous—looming in the foreground, it appears to be the most important building in the whole city, with buildings like the State House or the Boston Public Library shown as minuscule sketches. The factory, with its smokestack industriously puffing away, is adorned with text bragging about the the company's superior product: B&C soda is “on top,” with “highest quality.” Delivery carts stand at the ready in the yard, and nearby train lines suggest that B&C soda can be shipped anywhere at a moment's notice.

The September 15, 1903 issue of American Carbonator and American Bottler magazine featured a Beach & Clarridge advertisement on the front page.
The September 15, 1903 issue of American Carbonator and American Bottler magazine featured a Beach & Clarridge advertisement on the front page. HathiTrust/NYPL

The company also boasts a geographic slogan that has long been a favorite for advertisers with big ambitions. It claimed that its product “encircles the earth,” and this view shows mock versions of the Washington Monument, Eiffel Tower, and Great Pyramid, offering a diagrammatic symbol of the soda purveyor's global reach—one that was probably more aspirational than real.

There's nothing strictly incorrect about this map. It just uses scale and perspective to make a very deliberate argument about what's more and less important in a way that advantages the company's marketing ambitions. The visual language of a bird's-eye view draws in our curiosity, and the naturalistic beauty of the map's illustration might make you want to hang this on your wall. And if you just happened to be reminded of the best maker of soda water flavors while indulging in that curiosity and beauty, then, the Beach & Clarridge Co. did their job.

To keep learning about why people have distorted maps, for reasons ranging from advertisement to warfare, go to the Why Persuade? section. To keep learning about how mapmakers have used techniques like scale, perspective, and color to tell their stories, go to the How The Lines Get Bent section. And to think about the social relationship of visual communication and truth, go to the Power to Make Belief section.
Education Tour

A Very Important Company?

Most mapmakers hope to tell a particular story with their maps. When you look at this map of Boston, what story does it tell you? What does the mapmaker want you to focus on? Look for what's big, what's in the center, and what pulls your attention.

The title tells us this is a “Bird's Eye View of Boston,” which is a special kind of map view, but downtown Boston is far off in the distance. Using the map key or legend, look for Boston Common and Symphony Hall. Don't they seem less important than the B&C soda water factory?

We hope the viewers of this map aren't fooled into thinking the B&C company was a major Boston landmark, or that news of its soda water “encircle[d] the earth,” making it as well-known as the Eiffel Tower or the Egyptian pyramids! Within a few short years B&C sold the factory to a company making machine parts and disappeared.

More about this map

Despite their world-spanning ambitions, the Beach & Clarridge company had a short history on this site. While this illustration makes it look like they were a prominent fixture in the industrial district stretching out along the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad lines, they didn't build this factory building, and they didn't stay in it long, either. When this bird's-eye view was published in 1902, Beach & Clarridge had only just purchased the factory from the New York Cannabis Manufacturing Co. Almost immediately afterwards, they had leased it out and arranged to sell it outright to the American Steam Gauge and Valve Manufacturing Company. () This suggests that Beach & Clarridge hardly ever produced much soda at this factory, and this 1902 bird's-eye view was probably drawn up to celebrate their future vision at the time the factory was purchased, rather than document what was actually going on at the site.

The “Public Park” in the foreground of the bird's-eye view is now the Carter Playground; the area on the left marked “Base Ball Grounds” was the first home of the Boston Red Sox until 1911; it is now part of the Northeastern University campus.

This Atlascope view shows the Cannabis Manufacturing Co. that stood on the site as of 1902. Swipe over to see a 1906 atlas showing the American Steam Gauge and Valve factory.

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Massachusetts Reports 1911
Massachusetts reports: cases argued and determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts 208 (Boston: H. O. Houghton & Co., 1911). hdl:2027/hvd.32044106247893