Friday Eye Candy: Highly Detailed Cold War Era Soviet Maps of the U.S.

A new book sheds light on maps created by cartographers in the Soviet Union that dove into remarkable detail about buildings, transportation networks, and other infrastructure in cities across the United States and around the world.
October 27, 2017, 5am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Globe Turner

In their new book, Red Atlas, authors John Davies and Alexander J. Kent looks at the breadth of data compiled by Soviet cartographers on not only strategic military sites but also residential neighborhoods, including notes on whether neighborhood streets featured street trees. Greg Miller of National Geographic writes that the data was collected by satellites and publicly available information, and in some cases was supplemented by on the ground reconnaissance.

The Soviets also mapped American cities in remarkable detail, including some military buildings that don’t appear on American-made maps of the same era. These maps include notes on the construction materials and load-bearing capacity of bridges—things that would be near-impossible to know without people on the ground.

Miller writes that it is unclear how the maps became public, as they were never declassified. However, since their release, they have been used by telecommunications and oil companies, as well as humanitarian groups and scientists working I nremote areas.

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Published on Friday, October 13, 2017 in National Geographic
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