A Map of Synthetica, A New Continent of Plastics
A 1940 map of a fictional continent slightly resembling South America, symbolising different aspects of the new and exciting world of plastics
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
“On this broad but synthetic continent of plastics, the countries march right out of the natural world – that wild area of firs and rubber plantations, upper left – into the illimitable world of the molecule. It’s a world boxed only by the cardinal points of the chemical compass – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen.”
• “It floats upon a Sea of Glass, one of the oldest plastics known.”
• “New countries, like Melamine, constantly bulge from its coastline.”
• “The Alkyd country, a great swamp of height, impervious plastic paints, varnishes, and lacquers, creeps out like an implacable sargasso.”
• “Great chemical river systems, like the Acetylene, feed many countries. And boundaries are as unsteady as the maps of Europe.”
• “Lignin, the dark forest in the North, gives forth a new plastic made of the adhesive matter holding cellulose fibers together in wood.”
• “Petrolia is the land of the new synthetic rubbers.”
• “Cellulose is a great state, something like Texas, with many counties, all of which grew out of old Nitrocellulose (Celluloid).”
• “Rayon is a plastic island off the Cellulose coast, with a glittering night life.”
• “Vinyl-land, a fast-growing new country of safety-glass (…) and rubbery plastics, will probably subdivide soon.”
• “The Crystal Mountains of Acrylic (price elevation: 52,50 a pound) rund down into the Crystal Hills of Styrene – both brilliant new plastics with glandlike properties.”
• “The greatest plastic country of all – a heavy industrial region of coal-car chemicals led by Formaldehyde River – is Phenolic. Its hard-working plastics, in a sober Quaker dress of limited colors, go into most of industry. Capital: Bakelite, ruled Union Carbide & Carbon Corp.”
• “To the south is Urea, related to the (…), but a more frivolous and color-loving state. Its main industries are buttons, tableware, light globes.”
Strange Maps #175
This remarkable map appeared in the issue of Fortune Magazine for October 1940. Slightly resembling South America, a continent of fictional lands each symbolising different aspects of the then still new and exciting world of plastics is shown, floating on a sea of glass. The map was found here at fulltable.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
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