Scrolling along New York's roads a century ago

rota ray system map albany schenectady troy

It's interesting to see sometimes that people in the past had ideas, the concepts, for what we'd now consider modern devices -- they just didn't have the technology to pull it off.

We stumbled across this device -- the Rota-Ray Map System -- this week in the David Rumsey Map Collection. It's basically a handheld scrolling map. And in the photo above, it shows a map for the Capital District. (If you click over to that first link, you can see the whole device.)

The device dates to the early 1920s. From the description posted along with one of the devices that sold on eBay in 2013:

[The map is in] the metal box and you turn the handles located on the side and they rotates the paper inside to display the different maps. The maps are from New York starting at Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Jamestown, Lockport down to Salamanca, Cuba, a small section of PA (Bradford, Smethport), Rochester, Batavia, Hornell, Wellsville, Bath, Auburn, Elmira, Watertown, Syracuse, Binghamton and Johnson City, Ogdensburg, Rome, Utica, Potsdam, Little Falls, Oneonta, Malone, Amsterdam, Cobleskill, Middletown, Troy, Schenectady, Albany, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, Saratoga, Schenectady, and south to New York City and more. Measures 6 1/2" long, 4" wide and 1 3/4" deep.

The map itself was 3.5 inches wide and 300 inches long, according to a listing in a US Copyright catalog from the time. The Rumsey Collection has one of the full strips, and you can zoom in very close to see the detail.

We were curious about how the size of the device -- 6.5 by 4 -- compares to something like an iPad or iPhone. It turns out it's just a bit bigger than the new iPhone 6 Plus, and about an inch shorter in each direction than an iPad Mini.

photo: David Rumsey Map Collection

Comments

Maps maps maps. I love maps.

The David Rumsey collection is a treasure chest of maps. I've perused it many times but somehow missed the strips. Good post. Keep up the history lessons. I love them.

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