A Gratuitous Rundown of More Than Three Decades of Gratuitously Cartographic Advertisements in Fortune Magazine
☞ I explicitly excluded any overtly offensive images from this rundown that I could identify. Even so, some of the subject matter (as well as their occasionally unnecessary embellishments) may strike modern audience members as inappropriate. The images are a reflection of both their era and medium (magazine advertising). While it is not my intention to romanticize these images, my hope is that, with their historical context in mind, they collectively tell a story worth considering about the way Fortune’s advertisers chose to depict the world throughout decades of global change.
Fortune magazine is known for its rich legacy of informative and often avant-garde explanatory graphics. From the get-go in the early 1930s, the magazine featured lush illustrated maps. Throughout the 1940s, cartographers like Richard Edes Harrison filled Fortune’s pages with beautiful maps on topics both grave and playful. This tradition continued through the 1950s and beyond.
While this legacy is well-known to students of data visualization, what’s perhaps less well-known is that between the pages featuring those foundational illustrations were maps featured in advertisements. These maps were numerous and expansive, often covering multiple 2-page spreads in a single issue of the magazine.
Here, I have collected several hundred of them and placed them in chronological order. Perusing through this collection reveals at least a few mappy ad trends over the years: This state (or region) is the best! The globe is a funny prop! This territory was conquered by business! Look: we’re ALL OVER THE MAP! The Earth is in spaaaaace! This anthropomorphized earth will make you feel like you (and all of humanity) should buy this product!
Have a look-see. They’re pretty wacky.
The 1930s were the dawn of Fortune magazine. And the magazine was fancy. It was one dollar per issue (nearly $20 in modern cash money — more than an HBO Go subscription!) during the worst of the Great Depression. It was a luxury item and many of the ads reflected that.
The 1940s ushered in an era of global war, at a time when circling the planet was easier than ever. The maps in ads during this period were often propagandistic, hawkish or (sometimes) idealistic. Some of these maps were also downright comical — globe-person sauntering with a picnic basket, globe with ears, globe as an egg being carefully shipped. This decade also appears to have been the peak frequency of maps in ads, undoubtedly in part due to the war and a new collective sense of worldwide citizenry.
(Incidentally, advertising as a percentage of GDP tanked in the 1940s, which was probably also because of the war — but it isn’t reflected in the production quality of these maps.)
The post-war 1950s presented a world that was smaller than ever. Earth was now a caricature that humans (and corporations) completely controlled (like in the image directly below 😬). Really, Earth was now tiny (just look at the three businessmen standing on it a few images down). But there were other fun trends in the maps in ads of this decade: Rockets! Space! Funky map projections! Big, graphicky design splashes of COLOR! Oh, and those irreverent, old-timey characters from gift store mugs.
I confess. When I started collecting these, I thought there’d be a couple hundred total in all of the issues I could find. I was a fool. Fortune was literally packed with these maps for decades. When I hit publish on this post there were well over 400 maps featured.
All of this is to say, I ran out of steam. I’ll fill in the rest of the 1960s eventually. But not now. Because, the thing is, I think you get it.
Maps in ads — oh my!
💯 if you made it to the end. Seriously, wow.