Creating reality from fiction – Agloe

I came across a small fun little story concerning the town of Agloe located in Delaware County, New York.

The setup

Back in the 1930s, the founder of General Drafting Corporation, Otto G. Lindberg, created the town of Agloe.

General Drafting was one of the “Big Three” road map publishers in the United States from 1930 to 1970. The other two at that time were H.M. Gousha and Rand McNally.

You will not be familiar with the brand name “General Drafting” for road maps. This is because General Drafting was the exclusive publisher of maps for Standard Oil of New Jersey, later Esso and Exxon – in other words these were the Esso maps.

General Drafting had done the hard graft, they have gone out and gathered up all the details for their maps. A big fear was that the others would take a shortcut and simply copy their maps. To ensure this did not happen they placed into their maps things that did not actually exist as “Copyright Traps”. The idea was obvious, if they invented something that was not actually there and that turned up in a map published by the competition then they had solid proof of copyright infringement.

Agloe did not actually exist, it was simply an anagram of letters of Otto G. Lindberg’s name and also the name of his assistant, Ernest Alpers. Having made it up, they assigned it to a dirt-road intersection in the Catskill Mountains- NY206 and Morton Hill Road, north of Roscoe, New York

The Trap is Triggered

Roughly two decades later in the 1950s the town appeared on a Rand McNally map.

Esso contacted Rand McNally and threatened them with litigation. The evidence was clear, the “copyright trap” proved it.

The Reveal

Rand McNally advised Esso, “Nope, sorry, it really is a real place“.

What had happened is that a General Store was built on the intersection. When the store owners checked a local map they found the location of their store was called Agloe, so they simply shrugged the shoulders and went with what the map was telling them, and named their store Agloe General Store.

Agloe general store
Agloe, N.Y., is a fictitious town created by cartographers to catch those who might copy their work. This sign stands where the coordinates appear on the map.

Rand McNally had obtained the name and location from the Delaware County administration.

Fiction had quite literally become fact.

The store later went out of business and so Agloe has once again ceased to exist and is no longer on the latest maps.

This is in many ways a pattern we find in life. Sometimes deliberate ploys have unintended consequences.

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