Top of page

That’s Just Hysterical: The Lindgren Brothers’ Tourist Maps

Share this post:

This is a guest post by Kelly Bilz, Librarian-in-Residence in the Geography and Map Division.

If you’re buying a souvenir map, would you rather it be “historical,” or “hysterical”? The Lindgren Brothers aimed for the latter in their set of maps of American landmarks. With their distinct style—a yellow background, a blue (or sometimes red) border, and plenty of visual gags—these maps have become well-known among collectors of 20th-century maps. The Geography and Map Division has five Lindgren Brothers maps, all of which are available online.

Jolly and Ott Lindgren were born as Hjalmer and Oscar to Swedish immigrants in Wisconsin in the 1890s. They later adopted the names Jolly and Ott when they joined the Army during World War I. Jolly Lindgren demonstrated a predilection for art throughout his military service and continued to work as an artist upon his return, opening a commercial studio in Spokane, Washington, where he made signs for local theaters. His older brother Ott joined him to manage the business side of things, and Ted Turner, Jr. was brought on board to complete the trio.

Soon after the Lindgren-Turner Company had begun in 1928, the Great Depression hit, and the company tried to stay afloat by making calendars, featuring a pictorial map of Spokane. When it became clear that the map had more appeal than the calendar itself, the company shifted to mapmaking, taking advantage of the tourism industry and creating maps of national parks. Turner was the one who proposed using the word “hysterical” in the title, over “historical,” as historical maps were also common souvenirs.

A hysterical map of Death Valley National Monument : and it’s lookin’ mighty low. Map by Lindgren Brothers, 1948. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The Lindgren Brothers’ maps are a reminder that maps are more than a representation of geographical facts; they are creative works and convey data with a heavy degree of interpretation.

In their map, “Death Valley National Monument (and it’s looking mighty low),” for instance, they label a road in the lower right corner: “To Baker (But Why?)”. In the top left corner, they note on one stretch: “This is a lousy road.” The map provides more traditional information as well, including a signpost indicating that Death Valley’s Badwater Basin is more than 280 feet below sea level and the lowest point in the United States.

Similarly, “A hysterical map of Rocky Mountain National Park scenery: chockfull of ohs & ahs,” is also chockfull of jokes and puns. A box in the upper right portion of the map tells the reader, “Imagine the molehills you could make outa these mountains!” And toward the bottom, the map scale says, “You scale ‘em—that’s what you’re here for!” The labels for specific mountains also editorialize: a note by Mummy Mountain asks “Where’s Pappy,” and The Needles are joined by the parenthetical, “Feelin’ sharp, eh?” Joking on the philosophical side, one of the cartoon animals near the middle of the map says, “Life is fulla ups & downs.” The same could be said for the brothers’ experiences of living through two world wars and building a business during the Great Depression.

A hysterical map of Rocky Mountain National Park scenery : chockfull of ohs & ahs. Map by Lindgren Brothers, 1948. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Grand Coulee dam construction. Photo from Bureau of Reclamation Columbia Basin project, ca. 1936-1946. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Given that their mapmaking enterprise started in the Depression, it is perhaps not surprising that one of the landmarks they covered was the WPA/PWA project, the Grand Coulee Dam (of Woody Guthrie fame). Three of the Library’s five Lindgren maps focus on this feature, from 1935, 1937, and 1940, and they capture the progress of the construction project.

Each of the maps emphasizes and marvels at the scope of the project, which began in 1933. The 1940 map calls it “frightfully immense,” and the 1935 version cites that it planned to irrigate 1.2 million acres (although the Bureau of Reclamation puts the current number at about 670,000 acres).

Additionally, each of these maps highlights the features and landmarks that would be lost by the rising waters of the Columbia River. The two reservoirs created by the dam—Banks Lake and Roosevelt Lake—had not yet filled in 1940, so these maps show the Upper Grand Coulee region as it was before it was filled with Banks Lake, named for one of the supervisors of the Grand Coulee Dam project. However, the maps note the upcoming changes, pointing to Steamboat Rock in the 1940 map with the addendum: “in dry dock for the present.” They also point to Native American writings in the coulee, urging: “Better see them now—they’re gonna fill this thing with water you know.”

A hysterical map of the Grand Coulee Dam (to be the world’s largest concrete example), also the Grand Coulee & Dry Falls : a land of game & scenic splendor. Map by Lindgren Brothers, 1935. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
A hysterical map of the Grand Coulee Dam : all connected up with running water : added attraction, Dry Falls. Map by Lindgren Brothers, 1940. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Part of the Kettle Falls of the Columbia River. Photo from British Northwest Boundary Commission, 1860. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Upper Grand Coulee is located on the ancestral lands of the Sanpoil, Nespelem, and Moses-Columbia, all of whom are part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. When the Grand Coulee Dam flooded these territories, local communities were displaced, and cultural sites were inundated.

The flooding of the Columbia River further upstream (not covered by the Lindgren map) impacted other members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Spokane Tribe of Indians as well. The salmon fishing grounds at Kettle Falls, for instance, which is not pictured on this map, were submerged by Lake Roosevelt, an event marked by the “Ceremony of Tears” in 1940.

The Grand Coulee Dam also blocked the path salmon took to travel upriver, which is, in fact, shown in part in the upper corners of the 1940 Lindgren map: on the left side, the Columbia River (again) shows a cartoon fish swimming upriver to spawn—or, as the Lindgren Brothers put it, “spoon.” This drastically affected the population of salmon, a key resource for indigenous populations in the area. Today, there are multiple programs to protect and at least partially restore salmon populations.

Though aware of the construction project’s impact on the local Native American communities, politicians cited the importance of the Grand Coulee Dam for the war effort, since electricity generated by the dam was used to manufacture aluminum. The Lindgren Brothers made reference to the Native American communities who lived nearby and relied on the Columbia River—albeit stereotypically—with a drawing of a tipi, which was one of the dwelling structures historically used by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Indian house, Colville, Wash. Photo by National Photo Company, between 1908 and 1919. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Grand Coulee Dam was finished in 1942, but compensation was only granted to the affected tribes in the 1990s. As for the Lindgren Brothers, Jolly Lindgren died shortly after the war, in 1952. After his death, the company transitioned from souvenir maps to making signs, most famously: “No Trespassing: Survivors Will Be Prosecuted.” Ott Lindgren died in 1967, and Ted Turner, Jr. died in 1989. After decades of making “hysterical” maps, the Lindgren Brothers’ geographic contributions ended in 1972, though their particular style and brand of humor are remembered today. More examples of pictorial maps can be found in the Geography and Map Division’s collections.


Learn more:

Comments (6)

  1. Excellent and informative! Very interesting!

  2. Great content!! (Thankfully I know a guy who sends me these links to keep up on the map portion of the LoC!!)

  3. Thanks Julie! Your contributions are always fun to share with teachers and students. A great way for students to decipher fact and opinion. The Grand Coulee progression is fascinating.

    • Thanks Sherrie, we are so glad you enjoy the blog! To give credit where it is due though, this guest post was written by our librarian-in-residence, Kelly Bilz; I simply posted it for her.

  4. Thanks to Kelly Bilz for this post!

  5. have you found any complete listing of the Maps and Mapcards ?

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.