How Chicago Lifted Itself Out of the Swamp and Became a Modern Metropolis

By Building Canals, Laying Sewers, and Jacking Up Buildings, the Windy City Spurred Its Miraculous Growth

In 1833, Chicago was a wilderness outpost of just 350 residents, clumped around a small military fort on soggy land where the Chicago River trickled into Lake Michigan. The site was known to local natives as Chigagou, or the “wild garlic place.” By the end of the century, this desolate swamp had been transformed into a modern metropolis of 1.7 million, known the world over for its dense web of railroads, cruelly efficient slaughterhouses, fiery blast furnaces, and soaring skyscrapers.

Chicago’s rise was so sudden and so astounding that many observers …

Why Isn’t Lake Champlain ‘Great’?

Despite Its Geological Kinship With Superior, Erie, and Ontario, the Narrow Body of Water Between New York and Vermont Gets Mocked by Midwesterners

“The term ‘Great Lakes’ includes Lake Champlain.”

These seven words, quietly slipped into an appropriations bill by Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in 1998, briefly elevated the national status of a …

The Epic Effort to Map the West

A Brilliant Geographer and Famous Photographer Teamed Up to Tackle the Nearly Impossible Task of Surveying 19th-Century California

We’ll start in the 1840s, when Western North America was almost wholly empty of European-Americans. To prepare the land for settlement, the United States government sent teams of explorers into …

What Disappears When Ancient Documents Get Digitized?

The Osher Map Library’s Online Archive Is Astoundingly Detailed and Inherently Incomplete

The Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine is a treasure trove for the cartographically inclined. Its collection, which contains close to 450,000 items, spans the centuries, covering …

L.A.’s Finest Lobster Is Up for Grabs

The Crustacean-Shaped 4th City Council District—and the Cultural Treasures in Its Claws—Get an Election for a New Representative Next Week

A bag of popcorn just might be the best metaphor to describe the race to represent the 4th District on the Los Angeles City Council. There are many candidates, 14 …

California’s Three Greatest Mountains

They’re Not the Most Beautiful or Well-Known. But Their Panoramic Views Can Help the State Define Itself.

It’s a hot and angry September, and your boss or your spouse has just told you to take a hike. But where?

Hiking usually means mountains, and California has more than …