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A Rare Atlas of the First World War

A anatomial chart showing five horses.

S.B. Willsden & Co. Willsden’s Unrivaled Livestock Anatomical Chart. 1914. Geography and Map Division.


On October 27, 2022, the Library of Congress held an event for members of the Philip Lee Phillips Society, the Washington Map Society, and the Friends of the Library of Congress. The event was named “Explore the Depths of the Geography and Map Division.” Unusual maps and atlases from the collections of the Geography and Map Division were displayed during the event. While searching for maps to display, I retrieved a unique atlas titled The Deseret News Atlas. The atlas was printed in 1914 for the Deseret News Publishing Company in Salt Lake City.

The Deseret News Atlas contains detailed maps of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and the Panama Canal Zone. The atlas is unique because it also contains anatomical charts of farm animals with descriptions of their diseases and treatments. The anatomical charts were published by a firm named S.B. Willsden & Company. One of the charts from The Deseret News Atlas is featured on the right.

The  S.B. Willsden Company was based in Chicago and owned by Samuel Blake Willsden. Farmers purchased Willsdens’ Unrivaled Livestock Anatomical Charts for the care and treatment of their animals.

I decided to learn more about Samuel Willsden and discovered that he published  a World War I atlas titled The World’s Greatest War. The first edition of The World’s Greatest War was printed in 1914, a more detailed edition was printed in 1917. The Library of Congress holds both editions of the atlas, a digitized version of the 1914 edition is available  here.

The earlier edition contains detailed information about the royal families of Europe, histories of the nations at war, losses in wars since the year 1300, and other historical information. The atlas includes photos of aircraft, ships and weaponry. The second edition includes a chronology of World War I and a copy of President Wilson’s message to a joint session of Congress on April 2, 1917, when he called for a declaration of war against Germany.

The atlas is rare. Cataloged records show that two other institutions hold copies of The World’s Greatest War, the library at the University of Chicago and the library at the University of Oregon.

Featured below are a few maps and photos from Willsden’s atlas.


A map of European countries superimposed over a map of the United States.

S.B. Willsden & Co. The Relative Areas of the World’s Great Powers. 1914. General Collections.


A map of Belgium and France dated from 1917.

S.B. Willsden & Co. Western Battle Front: Nieuport to Reims. 1917. Geography and Map Division.


A map showing the northwestern theatre of war.

S.B. Willsden & Co. Northwestern Theatre of War and the North Sea. 1917. Geography and Map Division.


Photos of aircraft used during WWI.

S.B. Willsden & Co. Fighters of the Air. 1917. Geography and Map Division. 


Photos of the Battleship Pennsylvania, United States troops and a submarine.

S.B. Willsden & Co. Battleship Pennsylvania. 1917. Geography and Map Division.

Image of the cover of the atlas.

S.B. Willsden & Co. The World’s Greatest War. 1917. Geography and Map Division.

There is very little information about Samuel Blake Willsden (1867-1930). He was born in Brooklyn and died in Chicago. Willsden moved from Brooklyn to Illinois at a young age and spent time in Nebraska and Kansas. The S.B. Willsden Company was located in the  Heyworth Building, a Chicago landmark. Business directories dated from 1911 to 1930 list his name under newspaper specialties, printers, publishers, and novelties. In addition to the World’s Greatest War he also published a book titled World Tour National and American League Base Ball Teams. A copy of the book is held in the general collections of the Library of Congress. The book has been digitized and is available here.

Publishers in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston led the mapmaking trade until the late 19th century. Chicago became the map publishing center of the United States after the Civil War. Rand McNally, George F. Cram, the Poole Brothers, and other Chicago based companies dominated the mapmaking industry. In this post I have focused on a rare atlas and a lesser-known map publisher from Chicago, Samuel Blake Willsden.

Learn More: Read about the history of mapmaking and map publishing in Chicago in the Encyclopedia of Chicago.



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