Historical Map: Tramways and Trolley Bus Routes of Shanghai, 1939
At first glance, this appears to be a basic map outlining tram and trolley bus routes within Shanghai’s International Settlement, dated December 1939. It’s only when you read the legend that you start to realise the greater historical context of this map.
The statement that accompanies the dotted route lines in the legend simply states "No service in operation at present due to circumstances beyond the company’s control" — an massive understatement of the volatile situation in Shanghai at that time.
It’s just two years after the brutal Battle of Shanghai, and the Chinese parts of the city outside the International Settlement and French Concession are fully occupied by invading Japanese forces. Fighting between the Japanese and Chinese revolutionaries often spilled over the (supposedly neutral) settlements’ borders, which probably explains the reluctance of the transit company to guarantee service.
In 1941, the Japanese army entered and occupied the International Settlement in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor — the long-running Sino-Japanese war was now absorbed into the Pacific front of World War II.
Our rating: Not an amazing map of itself, but the history that it hints at is fascinating and deserves to be better known. 5 stars!
Historical Map: Oakland-San Francisco “Key System” Commuter Rail Routes, c. 1939—1940
A charming, if simplistic, map of commuter rail services offered by the Key System company. Some sources on the Internet date this to 1941: however, the prominent “Exposition Ferry from Ferry Bldg.” callout box would seem to link this map to the timeframe of the Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island between February 1939 and September 1940.
These dates mean that the Bay Bridge, the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and the transbay commuter rail routes as shown on the map are all pretty much brand spanking new. By 1958, commuter rail over the Bay Bridge had ceased operations: the Key System replaced these services with buses, and were themselves taken over by AC Transit in 1960. AC Transit’s B, C, E, and F lines still roughly follow the corresponding Key System routes today.
Historical Map: Sydney Rail Map, 1939
Just how influential was the original Harry Beck London Underground diagram of 1933? Certainly enough for Sydney, Australia to issue this nearly identical vision of its own suburban rail system in 1939, right down to its own version of the London Underground roundel. I’ve never been able to find out whether this map was authorised or licensed from the London Underground, or whether Sydney just thought, “that looks like a good idea, let’s do that!”
The prominent usage of the Underground icon is actually somewhat deceptive, as Sydney at the time had a grand total of four underground stations, all in the city - Town Hall, Wynyard, St James and Museum. Service levels in Sydney have also never matched those of a true Metro/Underground/Subway system, preferring to run large capacity trains with longer headways (commuter rail). However, it’s certainly clever to evoke images of the Mother Country’s glorious train system when you’re promoting your own, right?
Have we been there? Yes, just not in 1939.
What we like: Great early example of how Beck’s principles could be applied to other rail systems. Interesting view of the older Sydney system, with some stations shown that no longer exist (the ANZAC Rifle Range), and others that have changed their name (the lovely “Herne Bay” is now just boring old “Riverwood”, while the spectacularly named “Dumbleton” is now just “Beverly Hills”). Nice indication of the ongoing electrification of the system: the electrified lines are shown in bright, new colours, while the steam powered lines are plain black.
What we don’t like: Some confusing labelling of the stations between Central and Strathfield. I’m not entirely sure whether the colouring of the route lines actually matches up to service patterns of the day, making me wonder whether the map designer truly understood how diagrammatic maps are actually meant to work. A strange need to indicate long-distance train services on a suburban rail network map. Broken Hill? Albury? Brisbane?!
Our rating: Fascinating example of an early adopter of the Back style of transit map, even if it’s not quite up to the same standard of draftsmanship. Three-and-a-half stars.