The Story of Professor Higbee and the "Lost Stream Map"
Howard Higbee, who was a soils scientist and a Pennsylvania State University professor, personally charted and hand-drew Pennsylvania's 45,000 miles of streams on his map. Starting with many large topographic maps and aerial photographs, he reduced them again and again, drawing in each stream under high magnification. Then, to check distances, he modified his car's odometer to measure miles in 500ths.
Finally, in 1965, after three decades of work, Higbee completed his "Stream Map of Pennsylvania," as it came to be known. Fisherman, conservationists, foresters and others with a stake in the great outdoors all wanted copies.
1965 - Professor Higbee puts finishing touches on the Stream Map of Pennsylvania
Map drawing and printing plates buried
The map sold extremely well. But after a printing company reproduced over 70,000 copies over the next several years, the company went out of business -- and hauled the original drawing and the printing plates to the Baltimore landfill.
Because existing copies had been printed in non-photographic blue, it was impossible to make new printing plates from them. Professor Higbee was heartbroken.
Higbee considered redrawing all 45,000 miles of streams. But his advancing age -- he was in his seventies -- and the demands of caring for his wife, who had Parkinson's disease, made this an insurmountable task. So it appeared that the great Stream Map, now widely known as the "Lost Stream Map," was doomed to a life span equal to that of the existing limited copies.
Higbee was offered $400 for his last map
How valuable were the surviving copies? One person offered Professor Higbee $400 for his last copy of the map. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection kept its only remaining copy under lock and key.
Two decades later, in 1991, Larry Seaman and Karl Ings, of Vivid Publishing, Inc., came across a dog-eared copy of the map and made inquiries that led them to Higbee, then 91. When he told them his story, they decided to do what National Geographic and other experts said couldn't be done: reproduce and republish the map. Howard added, "At this stage of my life there isn't much I really want or need. But, seeing the 'Stream Map' available to the public again is one thing that would make me happy. But you'd better hurry, I'm not going to be around much longer."
At first, they were stymied. After all, they would have to duplicate a network of streams resembling capillaries in the human circulatory system. Who had the skill and patience to do it? What of the cost?
Then came a stroke of luck. Entirely new printing technology emerged that would allow reproduction of non-photographic blue. At least that was the claim. Seaman and Ings made test proofs, prepared to be disappointed with the results.
"But the results were much better than we expected," Ings said, "All the details were there, crisp and clear. And we knew at that moment that Howard Higbee might actually see his wish fulfilled."
1991 - Professor Higbee, age 91, with a big smile, said, "I never thought I'd live to see this day."
Professor Higbee did indeed live to see the resurrection of his legendary masterpiece. Before he died at age 93 in March of 1993, the new version of the map had won rave reviews from newspapers across Pennsylvania -- and the thanks of thousands of outdoors persons who are now using it as a reference tool
Higbee helps with the creation of new Stream and Lake Maps
Before his death, Higbee supported Seaman and Ings' desire to map the streams of all 50 states by passing on details of his unique map making methods. The two made many visits to the Professor's home near the Penn State campus, Higbee was always prepared each visit with notes on 3x5 cards, as if he were giving a lecture.
Then, combining Higbee's knowledge with computer technology and a team of map makers, new stream maps were published. "We now have maps in Higbee's trademarked cartographic style, with his incredible level of detail," Ings said.
Seaman said, "To honor Howard, all of the maps we create will carry his name. The drawing of him bent over his drafting table is there to constantly remind us to accept nothing less than the Professor's high standards for detail, accuracy, and quality."
Click Here to Go Back