Sunday, August 24, 2014

Agloe – A Mapmaker’s Protection Against Copycats

Making maps is painstaking work. Mapmakers throughout the ages have been victims of copycats passing their painstaking work off as their own. So how can you prove that someone ripped off the map that you made?

Simple: by adding a fake hamlet! In the 1930s, Otto G. Lindberg was the director of the General Drafting Co. Together with his assistant Ernest Alpers, he created a road map of New York State. To prevent copycats from ripping off their map, they added a totally fictitious place that they named "Agloe" on a remote dirt road. The name is in itself quite brilliant: it’s a mix of their initials OGL (Otto G. Lindberg) and EA (Ernest Alpers).

Lo and behold – the “trap” worked. The map company Rand McNally issued its own New York state map featuring "Agloe." Lindberg promptly sued.

But Rand McNally’s legal defense team came up with an interesting defense. The legal eagles pointed out in court that there was a shop called “Agloe General Store” nearby. Ergo, it must have gotten its name from a nearby village.

The owners of the shop looked at a map distributed by Esso, which owned a plethora of local gas stations. Esso had originally purchased its map featuring Agloe completely legally from Lindberg and Alpers. The store owners assumed that since Esso’s map features Agloe, they might as well name their shop after it. Oh, the irony!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. The all-knowing Google Maps shows Agloe as a destination (including directions!) until recently. Only in 2014 was the Agloe myth exposed and expunged from Google maps.

After 80 years, Agloe has disappeared from the maps. I am pretty sure that AGL and OE up there are laughing their heads off! As for Rand McNally, the company was finally exposed as the map pirate it was.

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