Agloe -a town at the brink of virtuality and reality

Before GPS and Google Maps, paper road maps were in high demand. Competing cartographers would sometimes not bother to survey actual locations but simply copy existing maps and sell the copies as their own to save time and effort.

As a way to try and spot these forging cartographers, some mapmakers would write fake town names into their maps, usually in little known desolate areas, and if the name of that paper town showed up on another map, they would know for sure it was plagiarized.

In the 1930s, General Drafting founder Otto G. Lindberg and an assistant, Ernest Alpers, assigned an anagram of their initials (AGLOE) to a dirt-road intersection in the Catskill Mountains north of New York. The town, Agloe, was designed as a copyright trap to catch others who might copy their maps.

Decades later, a competing map company – Rand McNally – included Agloe on one of their maps. When the General Drafting Company tried to sue them for copyright infringement, Rand McNally pointed out that the place had now become real and therefore no infringement could be established.

It turned out that the once empty spot marked Agloe now stood a real General Store – named ‘Agloe General Store’. In the 1950s, the owners of the General Store had seen the town name on a map, so when they decided to open up the store, they used it.

Eventually the store went out of business; Agloe continued to appear on maps as recently as the 1990s, but has now been deleted. It still appears in Google Maps though.


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