The unique light signatures of nautical beacons translate into hypnotic cartography.
- Many of the world's 23,000 lighthouses feature a distinct combination of color, frequency, and range.
- These unique light signatures help ships verify their positions and safeguard maritime traffic.
- But they also translate into this map, visualizing the ingenuity and courage of lighthouse builders and keepers.
Land and sea are both shaded dark, so it's a bit hard at first to make out that this collection of merrily blinking lights is actually a map. Once the coastal contours pop, though, all becomes clear: these are lighthouses!
The Age of Big Data
The map not only shows where they are, but how they are: static or blinking in various colors with the size of the circles corresponding to the range of their lights.
Up until the 20th century, a map of lighthouses would have been a subdued affair: just a string of dots strung along lines of coast. But this is the 21st century! We're in the Age of Big Data, ruled by the clever boffins who know how to stitch one dataset to another. Zap it with electricity and presto: it's alive!
That's what the folks did over at Geodienst, the spatial expertise center of the University of Groningen (Netherlands). Back in 2018, student/assistant Jelmer van der Linde (currently with the University of Edinburgh) came across OpenSeaMap, an open-source resource for nautical information similar to its more famous landlubber cousin, OpenStreetMap.
OpenSeaMap contained a database with detailed information on nautical beacons and lighthouses, which included not just their location, but also the frequency, range, and even the color of their signals. Would it be possible to visualize all those data points on a map? Yes, it would!
The result is this riot of a map. It's important that ships don't mistake one lighthouse for another. That's why they come in various colors and their lights flicker with a distinct frequency. Norway in particular is lit up with beacons and lighthouses, as its fjord-indented coast warrants. And the rest of Europe is well provided with nautical warning lights.
However, while the map is reminiscent of other global traffic trackers for flights (like Flightradar24 or FlightAware) or shipping (such as VesselFinder or MarineTraffic), it is neither live nor global. The flickering lights aren't a real-time report; they merely repeat the code in the original database. And that database is incomplete.
Zoom out, and the map gets a bit too dark. According to the Lighthouse Directory, there are at least 23,000 lighthouses in the world. And even though the United States has more lighthouses than any other nation – 700 by some counts – the map only shows a handful of lights in North America.
Like its parent, the lighthouse map is open source too, so if anyone out there is capable of filling in the gaps, they can. Lighthouse enthusiasts, get to it!
Not one yet yourself? Below are 10 lighthouse facts to help you come over to the light side.
Trapped in a giant phallus and other true facts about lighthouses
- The world's smallest lighthouse is the North Queensferry Light Tower, near the Forth Bridge in Scotland. A mere 16 feet (5 m) tall, it was built in 1817 by Robert Stevenson, famous builder of lighthouses, as was his son Thomas, who was the father of the famous novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Reaching a height of 436 ft (133 m), Jeddah Light in Saudi Arabia is the world's tallest lighthouse.
- The 2019 movie The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, was based on a true incident, known as the Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy. In 1801, a storm trapped two Welsh lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, in their lighthouse. One died, the other went mad. Asked to summarize his film, writer/director Robert Eggers said, "Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus."
- From its inauguration in 1886 until 1901, the Statue of Liberty also served as a lighthouse. Its nine electric arc lamps, located in the torch, could be seen 24 miles out to sea.
- All U.S. lighthouses are now automated – save for Boston Light, the oldest continually used lighthouse in the country. For historical reasons, Congress has decided it shall remain staffed year-round.
- Hook Lighthouse, on Hook Head in Ireland's County Wexford, claims to be the world's oldest lighthouse still in use. It was first built by a medieval lord in the early decades of the 13th century.
- The Tower of Hercules in La Coruña, Spain has a slightly better claim. It was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and still functions as a lighthouse.
- Stannard Rock Lighthouse is also known as "the loneliest place in the world." It is located in Lake Superior, Michigan. At 24 miles (39 km) from shore, it is the most remote lighthouse in the U.S. and one of the most remote in the world. It opened in 1883 and was staffed for parts of the year until 1962.
- A lighthouse on Märket is the reason for the weird border on the island, divided between Sweden and Finland. In 1885, the Finns built a lighthouse on the highest part of the island – on the Swedish half. Thanks to a complicated land swap, the lighthouse is back on the Finnish side.
- In the United States, August 7 is National Lighthouse Day.
Strange Maps #1082
Many thanks to Toon Wassenberg for sending in this map. Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six denominations share the Holy Sepulcher, but not all between them is peace and love.
- The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is not just the holiest site in Christianity; it is also emblematic of the religion's deep divisions.
- As the map below shows, six denominations each control part of the church, with only some parts held in common.
- Each "territory" is jealously guarded and sometimes fought over. The church's keys are held by… two Muslim families.
On a ledge over a church door in Jerusalem stands a simple cedarwood ladder. It's been there for perhaps three centuries. Since nobody remembers who put it there, nobody knows who is authorized to remove it. If anyone would try, there'd be immediate trouble with whomever would feel slighted — and there are plenty of candidates. This is the Immovable Ladder, and it is a fitting symbol for the deeply-entrenched divisions within Christianity, and within that church building itself.
The most sacred place on Earth
Those religious divides matter here more than anywhere else because this is the most significant church in the world. For Christians of any denomination this is the most sacred place on Earth. This is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and according to tradition, it contains both Golgotha (or Calvary in Latin; both mean "skull"), the place where Jesus died on the cross. Just a few feet further is the tomb (a.k.a. sepulcher) where his body was laid to rest and where according to the faithful he was resurrected three days later.
Yet despite its supreme religious importance, there is no single authority managing this holiest of church buildings. The care over the sprawling, multi-level complex is divided between various denominations.
The church's history goes back to the fourth century, when Roman emperor Constantine, newly converted to Christianity, sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem to locate places and things associated with the life and death of Jesus. This is the spot where she found the True Cross, a sign that this must have been Golgotha. The place of Jesus' burial was identified nearby. Constantine razed the pagan temple built here by his predecessor Hadrian, and a church on this spot, the first commissioned by a Roman emperor, was consecrated in the year 335.
In continuous use for 1700 years
The church has survived earthquakes, fires, invasions, and demolition by decree. It has been in continuous use for nearly 1700 years, even if the building standing there today is mostly a renovation and reconstruction dating to Crusader times. Over the centuries, various Christian traditions latched on to the church. Ownership became a constant source of dispute.
In 1852, the Ottoman Sultan decreed that the church was to be managed by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic churches and apportioned parts of the building to each denomination. Over time, smaller parts of the building came under the authority of three smaller Orthodox denominations: the Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian churches.
Six churches sharing one church. The result: a bit of a mosaic.Credit: British Cartographic Society
- Most of the building is under control of the Greek Orthodox church (in blue on the map). They manage the Katholikon (which is slightly ironic), the North Transept, the Seven Arches of the Virgin, a small Orthodox monastery, and various chapels, among other bits.
- The Latins (a.k.a. Roman Catholics, in purple) manage the Franciscan Monastery on the north side (which includes the Chapel of the Apparition and the Chapel of Mary Magdalene), the Grotto of the Invention of the Cross, a small area north of the Parvis, and a tiny space between the Katholikon and the Rotunda.
- The Armenians (in yellow) manage the Chapel of St. Helena, the Chapel of St. James, and the Armenian Gallery next to the Rotunda.
- The Copts (in red) have the care of various chapels near the Rotunda, including a small annex to the Edicule (i.e., the Holy Sepulcher) itself.
- The Ethiopian monastery is spread out on the roof, and the Ethiopians also manage an area called Deir al-Sultan, the Chapel of the Four Living Creatures, and the Chapel of St. Michael (all in orange).
- The Syriac church has the smallest part (in green): the Chapel of St. Nicodemus. But at least it's very close to the Sepulcher.
The Ottoman edict is the basis for the status quo, which is scrupulously maintained. A complex set of rules determines how the church is managed — such as who is allowed where and when, who cleans and repairs which parts of the building, and which areas are held in common (by the Greeks, Latins, and Armenians but not by the other three).
- The Rotunda is common territory, as is a chapel to the north.
- The Parvis (i.e. the courtyard at the entrance) is also common, as is an adjacent part of the church that contains the Stone of Unction (where according to tradition, Jesus' body was prepared for burial).
But some of the rules are disputed, and conflicts occasionally erupt. Two examples:
- The Copts have a long-standing claim over part of the roof, which is occupied by Ethiopian monks. To maintain their claim, Coptic monks take turns to sit on a chair on the roof. But on a particularly hot day in 2002, when a Coptic monk moved the chair a few inches into the shade, the Ethiopians interpreted that move as a violation of the status quo. The ensuing fight sent 11 monks to the hospital.
- And in 2008, Greek and Armenian monks got into a violent argument over the procedure of a religious procession. The brawl was caught on camera and pasted all over the news.
Can't we all just get along?
In recent years, however, the churches seem to be getting along a little bit better, although partly out of necessity. Significant parts of the building are in extreme need of repair. In 2017, the three main denominations (Catholic, Greek, and Armenian) agreed to fix the Edicule, which was in danger of collapsing. And in 2019, the three churches signed an agreement to renovate parts of the church's infrastructure (floor, foundations, and sewage pipes) and even to share ownership of any archaeological artifacts that might turn up during the work. However, the agreement excludes the three other denominations, which under the status quo have no say in the management of shared spaces.
Which brings us back to the Immovable Ladder. Despite its nickname, it has proven to be very movable indeed. It was stolen twice in the 20th century. Both times, it was soon recovered by the police and returned to its original position. In 2009, it was moved again, this time with the agreement of all relevant denominations, in order to accommodate scaffolding for renovations.
Upon completion of the works, it was again put back. And there it will remain until, as Pope Paul VI suggested in 1964, the divisions between the various Christian denominations are resolved. Or until Christ returns — whichever happens first.
Meanwhile, the keys to the church building itself will remain where they have been for centuries: in the possession of the Joudeh and Nuseibeh families, who by virtue of their Muslim faith are accepted by all Christian denominations as neutral guardians of the entrance to the church.
Strange Maps #1081
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Map shows Europe's imminent Great Leap Forward in battery cell production
- China produces 80 percent of electric vehicle batteries.
- To achieve battery independence, Europe is ramping up production.
- And the U.S.? Action is needed, and quick.
This is a map of the future — the future of battery cell production in Europe. If and when all projects on this map are up and running, Europe will have a battery cell production capacity of around 700 gigawatt hours (GWh). That's crucial for two reasons: (1) those battery cells will power the electric vehicles (EVs) that will soon replace our fossil-fuel cars; and (2) a production capacity of that magnitude would break China's current near-monopoly.
Say what you will about state-run economies, but they're great at concentrating effort on a particular target. About a decade ago, Beijing directed huge resources towards its photovoltaic industry. Today, nine of the world's 10 largest solar panel manufacturers are at least partly Chinese. China is similarly resolved to become the global leader in EVs, including EV battery production.
And so far, it's working. At present, about 80% of the world's lithium-ion battery cells are made in China. Lithium-ion batteries are the ones used in EVs. In sufficient numbers, lithium-ion batteries can also be used for large-scale energy storage, which would help even out power supply fluctuations from sources like solar and wind.
China's dominance in this area is making many outside China nervous. In previous decades, OPEC had a similar stranglehold on producing the oil that makes cars run and factories hum. Then the organization had a political point to make and turned off the tap. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, oil prices skyrocketed and economies crashed.
Avoiding a 21st-century version of that scenario requires a strategy for EV battery self-sufficiency, and Europe has one. In 2018, the EU launched its Battery Action Plan, a concerted effort to increase its battery production capacity. Realizing they couldn't beat China on price, the Europeans resolved that their batteries would be greener and more efficient.
Easier said than done. Setting up battery production is complex, expensive, and slow. And as the EU's woefully slow vaccine rollout demonstrates, the organization's strength-in-numbers argument doesn't always work in its favor. Indeed, by 2020, only four of the dots on this map were up and running:
- a facility by Envision AESC in Sunderland (UK - now ex EU)
- a Samsung factory in Göd (Hungary)
- an LG Energy Solution plant in Wroclaw (Poland)
- a factory by Leclanché in Willstätt (Germany)
But in this case, slow and steady may win the race. At least two dozen battery plants are in the works across Europe (i.e. EU and its near abroad), and four of those should come online in 2021 alone, including Tesla's plant near Berlin. Tesla, incidentally, coined the term "gigafactory" for its facility in Sparks, Nevada. As the title of this map suggests, it's becoming the generic description for any large battery cell production facility.
By the end of the decade, Europe will have around 30 gigafactories.Credit: CIC energiGUNE
Despite the fact that Tesla's Nevada plant is on its way to becoming the world's largest building, battery production capacity is growing fastest in Europe. Predictions vary, but all observers agree that Europe is on the verge of a Great Leap Forward. Here's why:
- Europe's current production capacity is about 30 GWh.
- One forecast puts that figure at 300 GWh by 2029, another even at 400 GWh by 2025.
- Adding up the maximum capacity of all facilities on this map comes close to 700 GWh by 2028.
- In terms of global capacity, BloombergNEF predicts Europe's share could increase from 7% now to 31% in 2030.
- According to Eurobat — disappointingly, not the Gauloises-smoking, Nietzsche-quoting counterpart to Batman — the value of the battery industry will increase from €15 ($18) billion in Europe and €75 ($90) billion worldwide in 2019 to €35 ($42) billion in Europe and €130 ($156) billion worldwide by 2030.
So, who will be Europe's answer to CATL (short for Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd.), China's main battery manufacturer? There are several pretenders to the crown. Here are some:
- Britishvolt, set to go online with Britain's first and largest gigafactory in Northumberland (UK) in 2023, with a maximum capacity of 35 GWh per annum.
- Northvolt, led by former Tesla execs, supported by the Swedish government and the European Investment Bank. Also funded by Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs. Aims to be green and big. One plant coming online in Sweden this year, another in Germany in 2024. Combined maximum capacity is 64 GWh.
- Tesla. Not content with its one gigafactory (40 GWh) opening this year, the company has already announced that it will build a second plant in Europe.
That second plant is not yet on the map. Also missing are the half dozen gigafactories that Volkswagen aims to open in the coming years. If Europe is to become self-sufficient in EV batteries, even more will be needed.
Europe's path to battery supremacy
In 2020, 1.3 million EVs were sold in Europe, edging past China to become the world's largest EV market. In 2021, Europe looks set to maintain that lead. By 2025 at the latest, EVs will have achieved price parity with fossil-fuel vehicles, not just in terms of total cost of operation but also in upfront cost.
Add to that the increasingly hostile environment — namely, higher taxes and stricter regulations — to fossil-fuel cars in Europe, and the pace of electrification will increase dramatically by mid-decade. Going by EU requirements for CO2 emissions alone, the EV share of the total vehicle market would need to be between 60% and 70% pretty soon.
While that may seem an impossibly high target today, things could start looking different very soon. Volkswagen aims to have full-electric cars make up more than 70 percent of its European sales by 2030. Volvo and Ford even aim to present entirely electric lineups by 2030 at the latest. And that year is also when the UK government intends to ban the sale of new fossil-fuel cars.
All of which could translate into base demand for EV batteries in Europe as high as 1,200 GWh by 2040. Even with all planned factories on the map running at maximum capacity, that still leaves a production capacity gap of about 40%.
To avoid batteries becoming a bottleneck for electrification, the EU likely will pour even more money into the industry via the European Green Deal and Europe's post-COVID recovery plan. Battery production is not just strategically sound; it also boosts employment.
A study by Fraunhofer ISI says for each GWh added in battery production capacity, count on 40 jobs added directly and 200 in upstream industries. The study forecasts battery manufacturing could generate up to 155,000 jobs across Europe by 2033 (although it doesn't mention how many would be lost due to reduced production of fossil-fuel cars).
Coming to America
And how fares America? Electrification is coming to the U.S. as well. By one estimate, EVs will have a market penetration of about 15% by 2025. Deloitte predicts EVs will take up 27% of new car sales in the US by 2030. The Biden administration is keen to make up for past inaction in terms of switching to post-fossil energy. But it has its work cut out.
Apart from Tesla's Gigafactory, the U.S. has only two other battery production facilities. If current trends continue, there would be just ten by 2030. At that time, China will have 140 battery factories and Europe, according to this map, close to 30. If U.S. production can't keep up with demand, electrification will suffer from the dreaded battery bottleneck. Unless America is content to import its batteries from Europe or China.
Strange Maps #1080
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without the now-obscure land investment affair, Georgia might have been a "super state."
- Few people today are familiar with the Yazoo Land Scandal, which broke in the mid-1790s.
- Yet it sent shockwaves through American public life, influencing politics, law, and even geography.
- Without it, Georgia could have been a "super state" — and the Trail of Tears might not have happened.
Seven of the original 13 states had extensive territorial claims, mainly toward the west.Credit: Library of Congress via public domain
There are no good old days.
Travel back, say, to the presidency of George Washington himself. Yes, the father of the nation, he who could tell no lie. Even under POTUS #1, there was corruption so venal and egregious that it changed the very map of America. In other words, without the Yazoo Land Scandal, the political geography of the United States might have looked quite different. Yet despite its catchy name and far-reaching consequences, few now remember the affair.
The scandal centered on Georgia, the last holdout in the process of state cessions. Of the original 13 colonies-turned-states, seven had entered into the Union with vague, contested, and often overlapping land claims, mainly in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
The six states without claims did not want to be overshadowed by their expanding neighbors. And the federal government did not want them to get into fights where their claims overlapped. So the U.S. government spent its first few years convincing and cajoling those seven states to abandon their claims. When New York relinquished its claim to Vermont in 1790 (for a mere $30,000), that process was complete. With one exception.
Yazoo Land Fraud
Georgia continued to claim territory all the way to the Mississippi River. For various reasons, the state was loath to give up its interest in these so-called Yazoo Lands, corresponding to the larger part of the present-day states of Mississippi and Alabama. Not least because of money. Land developers were eager to acquire large chunks of the country, their guiding principle being: bribe high, pay low.
In 1794, four companies, set up especially for the purpose, paid half a million dollars for about 40 million acres of land. Even taking into account all the bribes — another half a million — that was a ridiculously low amount: four acres to a dollar.
Following the Rescinding Act, Georgia's governor and legislators burn all copies of the Yazoo Act (except one).Credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia via public domain
Infuriated by the deal, Georgians booted out the legislators who had their palms greased to approve the Yazoo Act, by which Georgia had sold all that land on the cheap. In 1795, a new state legislature voted a Rescinding Act, overturning the sale. All extant copies of the original Act were collected and burned at high noon on the grounds of the state capitol under construction, then in Louisville. (One copy escaped destruction — the one sent to President Washington).
The Yazoo hits the fan
But that was far from the end of the unpleasantries. In fact, this is where the actual scandal started. For the land companies did not admit defeat. They continued printing bonds that were being traded and sold on the financial markets of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, raking in tidy profits.
Thousands of bond buyers acquired a stake in the Yazoo Lands. Eventually, though, the market smelled a rat. Investors started to worry: had they thrown away their money on a fraudulent land scheme?
Georgia paid back some of the duped buyers, but unable to handle the escalating scale of the scandal, the state eventually did surrender its claims to the Yazoo Lands to the federal government. Under the so-called Compact of 1802, the U.S. paid Georgia $1.25 million, took over any remaining liability for the Yazoo Lands, and promised to rid Georgia of any remaining Native American land claims.
So, the duped investors could now sue the federal government instead of Georgia. The land companies, for their part, wanted the U.S. to uphold their claims, which they continued to consider legal and valid. Who was right?
In 1810, the case reached the highest court in the land. Pronouncing on Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rescinding Act was unconstitutional and the original land deals remained legal. For although those deals were corrupt and not in the best interest of Georgians, the contracts were made by the Georgia legislature, which had the authority to do so. The Supreme Court ordered the U.S. government to pay out $4.5 million in compensation to the claimants.
Overview of the four separate Yazoo Act land deals that together constitute 40 million acres of land, sold for just $1 million (including bribes).Credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia via public domain
Yazoo changed the course of American history
Fletcher v. Peck was a landmark case in more ways than one. For the first time ever, the Supreme Court had ruled against a state law, that is, Georgia's Rescinding Act. This established the principle that federal laws were supreme over state laws. The case also firmly established that a legal contract could not be nullified by a later law, which became an important principle in contract law.
The Yazoo Land Scandal had two further, major consequences for the United States. Without the scandal, Georgia might conceivably have managed to hold on to its western lands. This hypothetical Greater Georgia, running from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, would have comprised most or all of the current states of Mississippi and Alabama. That would make it one of America's most populous states, its 20 million inhabitants on par with Florida and New York and surpassed only by Texas (30 million) and California (40 million).
Georgia could also have avoided one of the most ignominious events in its history. In 1830, the federal government fulfilled its promise in the Compact of 1802 to rid Georgia of all extant Native American land claims by the Indian Removal Act. Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, the Act led to the "Trail of Tears," the forcible removal of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw tribes — about 100,000 people in all — to reservations west of the Mississippi, in what would later become Oklahoma.
Although now largely forgotten, the Yazoo Land Scandal helped shape the territory, laws, and institutions of the early United States. But the affair has another lesson for our times. If there are no good old days, then our current ones perhaps aren't so bad either.
Strange Maps #1079
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
The popular game has a backstory rife with segregation, inequality, intellectual theft, and outlandish political theories.
- The streets on a classic Monopoly board were lifted from Atlantic City.
- Here's what it looks like if we transport those places back onto a map.
- Monopoly started out as its opposite: a game explaining the evil of monopolies.
Atlantic City's crowded Boardwalk, in front of hotels Schlitz and Dunlop, ca. 1913.Credit: Geo. A. McKeague Co., Atlantic City, New Jersey – public domain.
There have been several attempts to turn Monopoly the game into a Hollywood movie, one with Ridley Scott directing, another starring Kevin Hart. If none have succeeded so far, it's not for lack of an exciting backstory.
Dig deep, and you'll find racial segregation, economic inequality, intellectual property theft, and outlandish political theories. But let's start with the board—a map of sorts and a story in itself.
There's a customized Monopoly board not just for virtually any country in the world but also for movie and TV franchises (Avengers, Game of Thrones), brand experiences (Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson) and just about anything else (bass fishing, chocolate, the Grateful Dead).
To aficionados of the game, however, the names of the streets on the "classic" board have that special quality of authenticity, from lowly Baltic Avenue to fancy Park Place. Those places sound familiar not just if you like Monopoly, but also if you drive around Atlantic City, New Jersey's slightly run-down seaside casino town.
In fact, all the street names were taken from (or near) the city once nicknamed "America's Playground." Going about town, it's almost like you're traveling on the board itself. No wonder its other nickname is "Monopoly City."
This map transposes the streets on the board back onto the map, maintaining the color scheme that groups them from cheap (dark purple) to expensive (dark blue). Here's how they run.
The Monopoly board takes its street names from Atlantic City and a few neighboring places.Credit: Courtesy of Davis DeBard.
Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue are parallel streets in the middle of town, running southwest to northeast. They are perpendicular to most other streets on the board, and as such, cross or touch five other colors.
Three avenues in the east of town. Oriental runs southwest to northeast and crosses Vermont and Connecticut, which run parallel to each other.
Three streets branching off Pacific Avenue: Virginia Avenue, a long street towards the northwest; and St. Charles Place and States Avenue, two short spurs towards the southeast. St. Charles Place is no more; it made way for a hotel-casino called the Showboat Atlantic City.
New York and Tennessee Avenues run parallel and next to each other, northwest to southeast, the former all the way to the Boardwalk. St. James Place is in between both, south of Pacific Avenue.
Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois Avenues are the furthest west of the five street groups running northwest to southeast. In the 1980s, Illinois Avenue was renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Past O'Donnell Memorial Park—featuring a rotunda dedicated to Atlantic City's World War I soldiers—Atlantic Avenue continues west to Ventnor City as Ventnor Avenue. It is pictured as an inset (left) on this map, which also features Marvin Gardens. That place, in Margate City, is actually spelled Marven Gardens—an error for which Parker Brothers apologized to the local residents only in 1995.
These opulent streets are well-connected in more than one sense. Green is the only color to touch every other color.
The Boardwalk is as huge as Park Place is diminutive. Both are close to the beachfront, the most desirable location in any seaside resort.
The darker history of Monopoly
These names weren't picked at random. In the early 1930s, various informal versions of Monopoly were played throughout the northeastern United States, with local street names inserted for each city. The game's appearance and rules were perfected as it was being played. Around that time, an Atlantic City realtor named Jesse Railford hit upon an innovation: to put not just names but also prices on the properties on the board. Since he knew the lay of the land in his home city, those prices reflected the hierarchy of real estate values at that time.
That hierarchy and those prices were informed by the segregation that was rife in 1930s America. As one of the gateways of the Great Migration in the early 20th century, Atlantic City was a waystation for countless African-Americans leaving behind the stifling oppression of the South for better economic opportunities in the North. However, what they encountered on the way and upon arrival was the same racism, in slightly different form.
Railford played the game with the Harveys, who lived on Pennsylvania Avenue. They had previously lived on Ventnor Avenue and had friends on Park Place—all of which fall into the pricier color categories on the board.
In 1930s Atlantic City, these were wealthy and exclusive areas, and "exclusive" also meant no Black residents. They lived in low-cost areas like Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues; the latter street is actually where the Harveys' maid called home. In many local hotels at the time, African-Americans were only welcome as workers, not as guests. Atlantic City schools and beaches were segregated.
Belying both the binary prejudices of the time and the sliding price scale of the Monopoly board, Atlantic City back then was in fact a place of opportunity where a diverse range of communities flourished. Black businesses thrived on Kentucky Avenue. Count Basie played the Paradise Club on Illinois Avenue. There was a Black beach at the end of Indiana Avenue. For Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis, people headed to Oriental Avenue. New York Avenue had some of the first gay bars in the U.S.
Lizzie Magie (née Phillips), the anti-monopolist who invented… Monopoly.Credit: public domain
It should have been called "Anti-Monopoly"
An Atlantic City-based board was sold to Parker Brothers by Charles Darrow, who claimed to have invented the game in his basement. Parker Brothers marketed the game as Monopoly from 1935. The rights to the game transferred to Hasbro when it acquired Parker Brothers in 1991.
But Darrow didn't invent Monopoly. The original idea, as became widely known only decades after its "official" launch, came from Lizzie Magie (1866-1948), née Elizabeth J. Phillips.
Magie was a woman of many talents and trades. She worked as a stenographer, a typist, and a news reporter; she wrote poems and short stories; she was a comedian, an actress, and a feminist (she once published an ad to auction herself off as a "young woman American slave," to make the point that only white men were truly free); and she patented an invention that made typewriting easier.
Despite that impressive resume, she is now remembered mainly—and barely so—as the inventor of Monopoly. Except that the board game she developed was called The Landlord's Game. She patented it in 1904 and re-patented a revised version in 1924. The game was innovative because of its circular pattern—most board games at the time were linear. But its real point was economic, political, and ultimately, fiscal. The Landlord's Game illustrated Magie's belief in what was later called Georgism.
Known as the "single tax movement" and popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its concepts were formulated by the economist Henry George. He suggested that rather than taxing labor, trade, or sales, governments should derive their funding only from taxing land and the natural resources that derive from it.
As already observed by earlier thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo, a land tax is economically more efficient than other taxes, since it places no burden on economic activity. It would also reduce property speculation, eliminate boom and bust cycles, and even out economic inequality.
Although Georgist ideas were influential for a while and continue to be discussed—among others by Ralph Nader during his 2004 presidential candidacy—they are no longer a vital political force, except in the related field of emissions trading. One popular counterargument to modern Georgism, now also (but not entirely interchangeably) known as "geoism," "geolibertarianism," and "earth-sharing," is that government expenditure has increased by so much since George's day that it can no longer be covered by a land tax alone.
Back around the turn of the 20th century, Magie devised The Landlord's Game to educate its players about the evils of real estate monopolies and, implicitly, about the benefits of a single tax on land.
The Landlord's Game, Lizzie Magie's forgotten precursor to Monopoly.Credit: Thomas Forsyth, owner of The Landord's Game® / public domain
She created two sets of rules: an anti-monopolist one, called Prosperity, in which all were rewarded for any wealth created; and a monopolist one, called Monopoly, in which the aim was to crush one's opponents by creating monopolies. In the latter version, when a player owns all the streets of one color, they can charge double rent and erect houses and hotels on the properties.
Taken together, these two versions were meant to illustrate the evil of monopolies and the benefit of a more cooperative approach to wealth creation. It's very telling of human nature that it's the opponent-crushing version that came out the winner. But, in the light of what happened to Magie, perhaps not entirely surprising.
When Darrow claimed Monopoly as his own, Magie protested. In the end, her patent was bought out by Parker Brothers for a mere $500, without any residual earnings. Parker Brothers continued to acknowledge Darrow as the inventor of the game. Magie's role was not recognised until decades later.
For more on the intersection of Monopoly, Atlantic City geography and 1930s segregation, read this article in The Atlantic by Mary Pilon. She is also the author of a book on the subject, called The Monopolists.
Many thanks to Robert Capiot for alerting me to the article. And many thanks to mapmaker Davis DeBard for permitting the use of his work. Follow him here.
Strange Maps #1078
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