The David Rumsey Map Collection website has this beautiful gallery of photographs of a completely inkless and entirely embossed Atlas of the United States that was published in 1937. Although Braille eventually replaced the embossed letters, the system helped children at the New England Institute for the Education of the Blind in Boston learn about their country's geography all on their own.
Howe was the husband of Julia Ward Howe, the American abolitionist and author of the U.S. Civil War song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." He was a champion of people with disabilities and believed that blind youth could be taught geography through maps created with his special paper embossing process. In his introduction to the atlas Howe notes that crude attempts had been made to create maps for the blind, but they used primitive methods of creating relief and required the assistance of a sighted person. He claimed that his new embossing method was superior in all respects. Today, it is difficult to know how successful the atlas was, although there can be little doubt that these maps helped Howe's blind students visualize geography. We do know that 50 copies were made and five survive today, including this one. The atlas includes 24 state maps with a page of text describing each state and the symbols used on the maps. In our scans, we have lit the maps and text pages from one side to create shadows that reveal the embossing.
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