Fowler did 248 paintings of towns in Pennsylvania itself.
Thaddeus M Fowler was an artist I had never heard of before last week. His artwork was of painting “birds eye views” of cities. These were done in such detail that I personally was able to identify an ancestors property from one of the paintings. Wanting to know if he had ever did anymore I did a search at the Pennsylvania State Archives where I was able to discover he had many works there
Birdseye Maps – Views of various Pennsylvania municipalities drawn by Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler between 1887 and 1906.
. Here is the page from that site. If you have ancestors from Pennsylvania I would suggest you to search if the town(s) your ancestor lived in was ever painted by this great artist. For genealogy purposes these paintings can be really helpful in identifying homes and properties of our ancestors. –Michael S Sheaffer
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Bureau of Archives and History
Pennsylvania State Archives
MAP #567 – FOWLER’S PANORAMIC MAPS
*Maps #567-1 through 567-161*
Maps sometimes included detailed drawings depicting local places of interest
A view of Lehigh University drawn by Fowler in 1894
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the cheap cost of printing lithographs coupled with the pride of small towns laid the foundation for the success of artists who specialized in hand drawn panoramic birds-eye view maps of American cities. The idea behind the panoramic birds-eye view was to draw the town at an oblique angle from an imaginary vantage point in the air, from the viewpoint a bird would have flying over the city. Although the scale of certain buildings were exaggerated to make the town more visible, the accuracy and attention to detail was otherwise so meticulous that each building was almost an exact copy of its real world counterpart down to the number of windows it possessed. There were numerous artists that gained popularity during this period. One such artist was Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, known more by the name printed on each of the maps he completed, T.M. Fowler.
T.M. Fowler was born on December 21, 1842 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Fowler ran away from home at the age of fifteen and eventually found himself in Buffalo, New York at the outbreak of the Civil War. Fowler tried many times to enlist, but was rejected from the service numerous times due to his age, but after much persistence was admitted into the service in 1861. Fowler was wounded at the second Battle of Bull Run, which led to his discharge from the service in 1863. Despite having been discharged, Fowler decided to stay close to the war by making his way from army camp to army camp selling tintypes to the soldiers.
Towards the end of the war Fowler moved to the Midwest to work for his uncle, John Mortimer Fowler, who was a photographer in Madison, Wisconsin. It was here in 1868 that Fowler came under the employment of Albert Ruger, the first artist to achieve success drawing panoramic works of cities. Fowler began as a subscription agent and eventually became an assistant to Ruger, where during the next two years he learned the skills necessary to start his own company.
In 1870 T.M. Fowler began to produce his own panoramic maps. Over the course of the next fifty-two years Fowler would traverse through numerous states and cities achieving startling accuracy and a simple, yet refined, artistic style with each town he drew. This view was produced by the artist compiling notes while walking the streets and viewing the city from high vantage points. This data was combined to produce a complete work that could then be sold to the public.
Over the course of his travels, T.M. Fowler would partner with other panoramic artists of the time and produce collaborative works. Other artists included J.J. Stoner, O.H. Bailey, and James B. Moyer. From 1887 through 1906 Fowler concentrated on the state of Pennsylvania, where over the twenty year stretch he managed to produce over 200 maps of cities spanning the entire state.
In March of 1922, while surveying the town of Middleton, New York for yet another panoramic view, T.M. Fowler slipped on a patch of ice and became injured beyond the point of recovery. Fowler died a few days later on March 17 at the age of seventy-nine. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey.
Towards the end of Fowler’s career, with the advent of the airplane, the popularity of hand drawn panoramic maps began to fade with growing popularity of cheaper and less time consuming aerial photographs. Fowler’s career spanned the entire period in which panoramic birds-eye drawings were popular.
During the fifty-plus years that Fowler spent drawing maps, he managed to draw 426 works of locations in the United States and Canada. Of those 426, 248 were of cities located in Pennsylvania, the most of any other panoramic artist of the time period. The Pennsylvania State Archives is in possession of 167 of the 248 Pennsylvania drawings done by Fowler. The majority of the Fowler works at the State Archives are duplicates from the Library of Congress, transferred during the early 1970s, although the State Archives does possess a few originals.
With surprising simplicity and startling accuracy, T.M. Fowler was able to capture at the time what a camera could not. Each work serves as a snapshot of America during the turn of the twentieth century providing a unique perspective and insight into the past.
To obtain a high-resolution electronic copy of the maps listed below:
Visit the Library of Congress’ website where you can directly download high-resolution versions of these files. On their homepage, use the search bar at the top of the screen and choose “maps” from the dropdown menu, then enter “fowler pennsylvania” in the search box. This will produce a list of all the Library of Congress’ copies of the Pennsylvania Fowler birdseye maps.
Pennsyvania “Birds Eye View” Town Paintings
Search for drawings by municipality name:
|Verona & Oakmont, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 1896. Drawn by T. M. Fowler, Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Published and Copyrighted by T. M. Fowler & James B. Moyer. Shows: schools, business houses, A.V.R.Y. Station, churches. 22×32. Lithograph.|