Like Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the River Thames, the London Underground map is one of the most emblematic and iconic symbols of London. But when and how exactly did this world-renowned icon of the British capital materialise?
The London Underground map was first drawn up in 1931 by Harry Beck, an employee of the London Tube service. The map wasn’t, however, an instant hit with Beck’s superiors because the map possessed no features or any of the streets of London.
There also wasn’t any scale on map. The stations were equally divided along the route and were depicted by a diamond if there was an intersection and a circle for an ordinary station. In fact the whole map was drawn up as an electrical schematic would have been.
Although in the perusing years, it was the simplicity of the Beck’s map that contributed to the popularity and success of what is now one of the most of recognisable emblems of London.
Despite Beck’s bosses being fairly unimpressed, a trial run for the map was made in 1933 and it immediately proved to be popular with the public. So we can say that the map, although is has evolved albeit modestly over time in order to keep pace with new lines and stations, has been around in this simplistic and easy to use format for eighty years.
Not only has the London Underground map endured all manner of changes, but it has influenced other services to follow it’s easy to use design. From buses in the far North of England to tramlines around Manchester and tube stations around the world, many of them have simplistic diagrams based heavily on Harry Beck’s map.
Besides it simplicity, in possessing a different colour for each line and the fact that only horizontal, vertical and 45 degree lines are used, the map has a well-balanced and aesthetically appealing look and it is hard to imagine the London Underground being shown in any other way.
Alongside red telephone box money boxes, Big Ben keyrings and Buckingham Palace fridge magnets, you can buy knickers, boxer shorts, aprons, handbags, postcards and a seemingly endless collection of London Underground map merchandise.
It’s so easy to take the map for granted even though you don’t have to walk too far in London before you come across one. So the next time you catch sight of this legendary map, pause for a minute and consider its purpose and the eighty years that the map has spent serving its purpose. How many people has Harry Beck’s map helped out in London down the years and how many more will it help out in the future?