Category: History



In 1850, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure, as it had been for over three thousand years. By James Reynolds and John Emslie.

Below, by 1884, the Washington Monument (555 feet, 169 meters) had taken over. From Cram’s Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World.

The Eiffel Tower (1,063 feet, 324 meters) had arrived on the scene by 1896, and being nearly twice the height of the Washington Monument, it presented a scale problem. Solved here by cropping off a large piece of it. From Rand, McNally & Co.’s Universal Atlas of The World.

After a number of buildings held the title, the Empire State Building (1,250 feet, 381 meters) became the leader in 1931. This elevation is in the Art Deco lobby, which according to the building’s website, took 18 months to restore in 2009. The whole building took just 13 months to build.

Photograph: Ken Thomas

The World Trade Center (1,368 feet, 417 meters) took the record away from the Empire State Building in 1972. The Tobu World Square theme park in Japan has scale models of 102 buildings from around the world. Their World Trade Center is 65.5 feet (20 meters) tall.

Photograph: Fredhsu

A 2008 gatefold for Condé Nast Traveler that includes the soon-to-be number one, the Burj Khalifa (2,717 feet, 828 meters), a number of previous record holders, some landmark towers in terms of design, and some other towers that were planned back then.
Click on the image for a larger version of the illustration.

Illustration by Bryan Christie Design:

Retro tech


Everyone had a tape recorder, and presentations were on slides, in a carousel. Jim Golden made these GIFs.
See more of his bygone technology images here:

Early cellphones were bulky.

It was the beginning of the end for the conventional telephone.

William Shatner presents the latest in computers in an early 1980s advertisement.
The Commodore VIC 20 was the best selling model of it’s time.

I was lent a Commodore 64 to illustrate it for a magazine. I even tried to use it. End of story. Below, the airbrushed illustration. The overlay which carries the labels is rolled back.

Email was new and mysterious in 1981.

The Macintosh Portable (1989 to 1991) had a fabulous two megabytes of RAM, and a black and white screen. Weighing in at 16 pounds (7.2 kilograms), it was not exactly lightweight. The cost: $7,300 (more than $14,000 in today’s dollars).

Retro tech by Guillaume Kurkdjian. He featured recently in a blog post:
His website:

Below, a Minitel terminal.

“Piano key” cassette player.

Vectrex video game console.



Road signs
Perhaps the most common arrows. There must be billions of them out there.

I like chevrons, and I don’t know why. Below, an Australian example.

The exact spot
Making accurate maps of Britain in the mid-twentieth century required these “minor revision points.” Precisely-located arrows that acted as fixed points for revising maps. Elaine Owen (who works for the Ordnance Survey) came across an archive of photographs at Manchester’s Central Library. She’s published thousands of them on Timepix, a work-in-progress website that geo-locates historic images.

The Golden Arrow
A classic luxury train that ran from London (Victoria Station) to the English Channel ferries at Dover. Pulled here by “Tangmere,” a Bulleid Light Pacific locomotive.

I just happen to have a Hornby model of another one of the Battle of Britain Class locomotives in my studio.

Air Mail
In the 1920s, a system of about 1,500 beacon towers, standing on huge arrows, directed aircraft carrying mail across the United States. The arrows were originally painted bright yellow. Several of them still exist, although many are gradually eroding back into the landscape. This one is in Utah, about 80 miles north of the Grand Canyon.

Photograph: Dppowell.

Here’s a preserved example of the full setup at Newark Heath Airport in Ohio (about 55 miles from where I’m sitting).

Image from Google Street View.

A London tourist sign points to eight destinations.

Photograph: Source

Trylon and Perisphere


These simple geometric shapes were the centerpiece of New York’s 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. The 610 ft high (186 meters) Trylon was attached by a walkway to the 180 ft diameter (55 meters) Perisphere.

Inside the Perisphere was a diorama by Henry Dreyfuss called “Democracity,” a vision of a city of the future.

Of course, there were many Trylon and Perisphere souvenirs. Pass the salt and pepper, please.

The World’s Fair site.

A promotional poster.

The Trylon Theater on Queens Boulevard was showing movies until 1999.

Tiling below the ticket window.

The Unisphere (from the 1964 World’s Fair) stands on the same site today. I featured it here:
This is a souvenir model.



Many iconic movies of the mid-twentieth century featured the work of this legendary graphic designer. Like these three Hitchcock movies.

He also designed many well-known American logos.

A Google Doodle, lovingly-made by Matthew Cruickshank, celebrated Saul’s birthday. See the animation here:
Matthew’s website:

Unusual advertising


It was a different world back then. Everyone smoked, even astronomers in the observatory.
“Have I discovered a new galaxy, or is it just the smoke from my cigarette?”

Your doctor would recommend his favorite brand of cigarettes.

Even Santa liked a few puffs before getting on his sleigh.

Airline food in the 1950s.

The modern reality.

Cars clearly were glamorous. It’s a shame that they would only go a few miles on a gallon of gasoline.

“Flight-Sweep Styling.” Chrome-cleaner anyone?

In those days, babies drank soda.

Stick maps


These charts were used by the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands to navigate their canoes. Shells represent islands. The ribs (made from the midribs of coconut fronds) show ocean swell patterns and currents. Often, only the person who made the map understood it, as there was no standardization between charts. The map-making process was handed down from father to son over many generations. A map was studied before a trip and was not referred to during the voyage.

There were three types of maps:
An abstract small chart, used for teaching only.

A close-up of a few islands with the main ocean swells.

Shows a whole chain of islands and the swell patterns.

This mapping system was not revealed to Westerners until 1862, when a missionary reported it in “Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle.”



Dazzle painting (or razzle dazzle) was a World War I invention that was all about visual deception. Colors, patterns, lines and curved shapes were painted on ships to confuse enemy submarines. The effects were tested using models which where viewed from every angle, including through a periscope, to get an idea of how submarines would see them. The intention was to confuse attackers enough to make them miss, or to not even fire a torpedo at all. The 1918 painting above is by Burnell Poole. Picasso claimed that Cubists had invented dazzle camouflage, but the credit belongs to Norman Wilkinson, a British marine artist.

The photographs of these designs are all, of course, in black and white, but some strong color was often used.

Each ship had a unique scheme so that the enemy could not identify it by type.

I just had an idea. (Editor’s note: This doesn’t happen often.) Today, we might consider painting ships with some of those multi-colored pie charts from business presentations. They can confuse anyone.

Dazzle ferry
“Everybody Razzle Dazzle, 2015,” a design created by Peter Blake as part of a program to mark the centenary of World War I. A bold new look for the Mersey ferry “Snowdrop.”

Photograph: Morris

The project includes an app so that we can make our own dazzle patterns.

The Canadian armed forces were the first to use computer-generated camouflage, the Canadian Disruptive Pattern or CADPAT, which works well at different distances. There are three types: Temperate Woodland (TW) which is shown below, Arid Region (AR) and Winter/Arctic (WA).

The Operational Camouflage Pattern is now the official combat design for U.S. soldiers.

Photograph: U.S. Army

If you want to know more about this subject, try the encyclopedia of camouflage (yes, there is one):

Sweets (Candy)


Selection guide A piece of simple, and useful, infographic magic. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

Savoy Truffle The lyrics of this 1968 Beatles’ song refer to Good News chocolates. They contain a warning about the risk of future dental problems: “…you’ll have to have them all pulled out.”

Creme Tangerine and Montelimar
A Ginger Sling with a pineapple heart
A Coffee Dessert, yes, you know it’s Good News
But you’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle.

Hear it The section of “Savoy Truffle” described above is here:
Or get the full song on iTunes:

Sweet thesis My art school final project was called “Sweets.” I’m afraid that this unbelievably-great graphic artifact is lost deep in the vaults of the massive Grimwade Museum of Infographics (which is on the Isle of Sheppey), but I do remember that one component was photographs of Everton Mints. There’s something inherently graphic about many types of confectionary.

Photograph © Mark Fairey/123rf

Five Boys My favorite vintage candy label contains a strange message. What does it mean?
Are these the five stages of an infographic project?

Leonardo who?


Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was so ridiculously multi-talented, that it’s hard to believe he existed. Leonardo often wrote backwards for reasons that are not entirely clear, perhaps as he was left-handed, it meant that he didn’t smudge the ink. Anyway, a genius of his magnitude can do whatever the hell he wants. The Vitruvian Man (above) is just one of many iconic images Leonardo created (the Mona Lisa is top of that list). The drawing is based on the relationship of ideal human proportions to geometry, as described by the Roman architect, Vitruvius, who considered them to be fundamental to classical architecture.
References to the Vitruvian Man appear all over the place. An example: NASA’s extravehicular activity (EVA) arm patch.

From the Codex Leicester (also known as the Codex Hammer), which is owned by Bill Gates. 18 sheets of paper full of ideas and observations about topics like water, geology, and light from the moon.

“Salvator Mundi,” sold for $450.3 million on November 15, which is a new world auction record for any piece of art.

We all know about Leonardo’s many inventions: flying machines, solar power etc. In an era of conflicts all over Europe, it’s not surprising that war machines were on his mind. Hence this design for a giant crossbow. Note the size of the operator.

Had this weapon ever been put into use, the results would have been interesting.

Perhaps it’s time to get your Leonardo action figure. The quote on the box says it all.

Photographs above © Sergey Novikov/123rf, Burmakin Andrey/123rf