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A Food Map of the United States

  • Author: FANCHER, Louis Delton (artist)
  • Publisher: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co (A & P)
  • Engraver: Plampin Litho Co
  • Date: [1932]1933
  • Dimensions: sheet: 114.5 x 89.5 cms / map: 109.5 x 84.5 cms


A Food Map of the United States: Pictorial map designed by Louis Fancher as a promotional piece for the Chicago World’s Fair, 1933

About this piece:

A Food Map of the United States showing the part played by each of our States in supplying the Nation’s larder

Large lithographic poster map in bright & vibrant printed colours. Un-backed original condition. Old vertical & horizontal folds. Light paper toning to margins. Some slight creasing to image upper centre & light wear on original vertical fold at upper centre & in top title panel. Small pinhole at central fold juncture. Two or three unobtrusive nicks and short tears in blank margins only along bottom & right sheet edges. Overall a fine example.

Originally copyrighted in 1932, this striking & impressive food-themed pictorial map of the United States was designed by the renowned graphic artist & poster designer, Louis Delton Fancher [1884-1944] for the Great Atlantic & Pacific (A & P) Tea Company as a promotional & educational piece for their Exhibition – the so-called “A & P Carnival” – at 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The event is referenced in a decorative cartouche in the lower left of the map. Fancher’s distinctive signature appears in the lower right corner of the map.

Reviews of the period highlight how many thousands of visitors bought this map (and an accompanying descriptive booklet) at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and, seemingly, by mail order for several years afterwards.

It particularly attracted the attention of teachers and educators of the time due to the fact that it was “covered with gaily colored pictures showing the principal products produced in each of the 48 states”. It was also in a format that could easily ” be framed or mounted on heavy board to hang as a permanent reference & classroom decoration”….(and which) combines entertainment and instruction in just the right proportion for classroom use…”

A detailed description below the map itself outlines the remarkable transformation of the United States over the previous two centuries from vast wilderness to a veritable land of productive plenty, noting that….

Several decades ago, when every village had to grow its own food, the diet of its people had a deadly monotony except in summer. Today ours is the richest and most fertile land in the world. Seasons and distances have been wiped out. We can reach out a hand and draw our daily food from the farthest corners of the land…..

It is hard to ignore the irony of this optimistic description of US agricultural success & progress (especially in relation to the Middle West prairie farms which “now give us corn, pork, beef, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, butter, cheese, honey…”). By 1933 the increasingly dire economic and darkly ominous environmental realities of American farming and food production were becoming readily apparent.  Severe droughts had first hit the Mid West and Southern Plains in 1930 and a series of successive annual droughts followed until the end of the decade when rainfalls eventually returned to normal. First witnessed in 1931, by 1933, the huge & disastrous dust storms of what soon became known as the “Dust Bowl era” were now beginning to be seen in earnest: “black blizzards” that frequently swept across the Great Plains, enveloping & devastating the areas they hit and invariably depositing the region’s top soil thousands of miles away, frequently dusting the buildings and monuments of Washington DC & New York City. By 1934, some 25 million acres of farming land had been lost to cultivation, whilst another 125 million acres, an area roughly three quarters of the size of the State of Texas, was already dangerously denuded of topsoil. Mass migration quickly followed as impoverished farmers abandoned their now unsustainable farmsteads. Across the Mid West prairie States some 2.5 million people upped sticks and left. Oklahoma alone lost nearly half a million people (euphemistically known as “Okies”, their plight was the subject of John Steinbeck’s famous 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath). Almost half of those from Oklahoma migrated west to re-settle in California.

The map itself shows each of the individual states represented by a vibrant pictorial vignette of typical foodstuffs, agricultural livestock & produce. Fancher also includes illustrations which highlight what would now be considered the offensive & unwarranted racial stereotyping of immigrant and indigenous populations, notably native Americans, who feature prominently in the North-western States (Wyoming, Montana, Nevada etc) and Chinese & African-Americans in the Southern States (Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas etc). The strikingly patterned turquoise waters of the Atlantic & Pacific are vividly decorated with giant fish and assorted marine life and sea creatures.

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Company (A & P) which in fact ceased trading only two years ago, in November 2015, was for over a century one of the great corporate behemoths of American business & retailing. It was a food and grocery giant that by the 1930s had become the Google & Walmart of its day. First established in 1859 by George Gilman [1826-1901], it developed from a small scale tea & coffee retailer in central New York, by the early 20th Century it was a nationwide manufacturing & grocery chain under the control of George H.Hartford [1833-1917] & his three sons. By 1930 A & P was the world’s largest retailer with over 16,000 stores across the US and North American sales (in both the US & Canada) totalling $2.9 billion. Developing a retail model based on the economy store & without any significant financial borrowings, it was exceptionally well-placed to weather the post-1929 Wall Street Crash & ensuing years of the 1930s Great Depression. However, in 1933, the year of the Chicago World’s Fair, A & P’s stellar retail growth suddenly stalled – annual sales in the US dropped by nearly 20% as numerous US competitors began to open larger and more competitively-priced “supermarkets”. A & P quickly followed suite and by 1938 had over 1100 of its own supermarkets. By the 1950s it had phased out all of its smaller economy stores, continuing to develop & refine the supermarket model through to the modern era.

The four corners of the sheet are illustrated by four smaller maps of North America showing the type & distribution of American meat, poultry & grain production respectively. The fourth map (lower right) illustrates the A & P’s nationwide network of buyers and distributing warehouses and the overall spread its food stores, which clearly predominate in only the Eastern half of the country.

The “A & P Carnival” site at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair comprised an open-air marine park with an amphitheatre able to seat several thousand visitors. It is said that at the most popular high points of the Fair, there were as many as 150-170,000 visitors to the “A & P Carnival” each  day. As well as displays of foodstuffs and regular talks and discussions by leading experts, there was also the “A & P  Experimental Kitchen” where famous culinary menus were tested & sampled under the watchful eye of a trained dietician. The daily programme of popular entertainments in the Carnival amphitheatre included Harry Horlick & his Gypsy Orchestra, Gypsy dancing and the A & P Marionettes, the creation of well-known puppeteer, artist & designer, Tony Sarg [1880-1942]. Sarg played a prominent role in the World’s Fair site design and layout, as well as producing an attractive pair of promotional pictorial maps of the Chicago lakeside site. His talents would be extensively employed once more, six year later, for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

Louis Delton Fancher [1884-1944] was born in Minneapolis in December 1884, the son of James D Fancher, a drug and patent medicine salesman and his wife Caroline. The Fanchers were descended from early French Huguenot immigrants. The family moved first to Chicago and later to New York in the late 1890s, where they are recorded in the 1900 Federal Census. Louis subsequently studied at New York’s Art Students’ League. He was married in about 1905 (to Alice Marie Brarsen, an aspiring interior decorator). In about 1909 Fancher travelled to Europe to further his artistic studies, spending much of his time in Munich. On his return to the US, he settled in Westchester, NY and initially found work in a number of East Coast silent movie studios, before becoming a highly regarded commercial illustrator and poster designer. Much of his early work was for Collier’s & Scribner’s magazines. By 1907 he had already received commissions to design military recruitment posters and during the course of the World War I he would design several others, all notable for their striking use of contrasting light & colour. In World War I he served as a junior officer with 1st Field Artillery and latterly, in 1918, as a Captain with US Military Intelligence. Other commercial illustration work in this period included stylish advertising designs for Omar Turkish cigarettes and the Packard & Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Companies. In 1916 Fancher achieved notoriety as the winner of the $1000 Remington Prize, a national poster competition organized by the Remington Firearms Company, which brought together five of the leading commercial artists of the day to design a special poster to commemorate the centenary of the first Remington rifle. In the post-war years Fancher went into commercial advertising. In 1920 he was VP of New York’s Louis C Pedlar Inc, before joining the staff of Bartlett Orr Press as consultant art director in 1921. By 1926 he had been appointed Assistant Art Director to René Clark at another New York advertising agency, Calkins & Holden. His subsequent promotional artwork for the Cunard Steamship Company at Calkins & Holden was especially fine. He remained a prominent figure in commercial illustration and advertising throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. He died in New York in March 1944, aged just 59. Given his status as an Army veteran, he and his widow, Alice Marie Brarsen Fancher [1887-1958] were interred beside each other in the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC (Section 4 Site: 5565).

A & P’s Food Map of the United States is now a rather scarce & uncommon item. One example is preserved in the David Rumsey Collection. It is certainly amongst the finest and most striking of poster designs produced by Fancher in an artistic career that spanned four decades & which mark him out as one of the great American illustrators & poster designers of the early 20th Century.

Refs: David Rumsey Collection