When Rand Met McNally

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While there actually is a human being named Rand McNally—he happens to be a management consultant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—the most famous name in cartography wasn't a solo venture.

A printer by trade, William Rand moved to Chicago in 1855 after some time out West during the California Gold Rush. Establishing his own printing shingle in 1856, he quickly found a major client in the Chicago Daily Tribune, a precursor to the Chicago Tribune. The paper wanted him to manage the business they struck up when the presses weren’t rolling.

It was at the Tribune where he met Andrew McNally, a 21-year-old immigrant who had arrived from New York via Armagh, Ireland. McNally, who had been trained in printing as well as cartography, struck Rand as a viable employee for his own projects. In 1858, he offered McNally work at his shop for $9 a week. McNally accepted.

While Rand was originally focused on printing railroad tickets and schedules to keep up with the expansion of tracks around the country, McNally’s mapmaking skills would prove to be exactly what Rand’s business needed in order to thrive. In 1868, the same year Rand purchased all the printing accounts from the Tribune, he and McNally disposed of their employer/employee relationship and incorporated Rand McNally and Company.

While much of their business stemmed from railroad tickets and schedules, maps began to emanate from their Chicago offices in 1872. By using a new wax-engraving printing technique dubbed cerography, they were able to quickly revise editions when routes were newly altered or constructed. Gold prospectors and other travelers loved them.

Rand McNally

While it’s difficult to say which man contributed more to the partnership, it may have been Rand’s quick thinking that helped them get that far. When the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city in 1871, Rand is said to have scooped up two of their ticket-printing machines and taken them over to McNally’s house 3 miles from their offices. From there, the two buried the machines on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan to protect them from the destructive heat. The plan worked: While other businesses were sifting through ashes, Rand McNally was able to resume business only three days later.

In 1873, Rand named himself president of the company, with McNally vice-president, roles that lasted until Rand’s departure in 1899. From that point on, four generations of McNallys ran the family business until being bought by AEA Investors in 1997 for $430 million. (AEA sold it off again a few years later; the company eventually ended up in the hands of current owner Patriarch Partners.)

In 1904, the company introduced automotive maps, which would make them a fixture of car door pockets for decades to come. McNally died that same year, with Rand following in 1915.