This website is based on an exhibition that was on view at the National Museum of American History from February 16, 2016 to January 29, 2017.
In the mid-19th century, mariners’ charts linked the world’s richest fertilizer to some of America’s earliest overseas territorial claims.
The 1826 Marine Atlas on display is the world’s only known example in a public collection. The volume contains forty charts, documents detailing the world’s waters and coastlines. Updated to 1828, the Marine Atlas represents the pinnacle of the chart-maker’s art, in a time when paper charts were the globe’s principal way-finding tools.
Two of the charts for the South American coast contain handwritten notations relating to the Pacific islands seabird guano trade. The mining and trade of these valuable bird droppings, used as fertilizer to enrich the soil in farmers’ fields, inaugurated America’s earliest significant land claims beyond the continent.