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The Man Who Mapped D.C. By Hand

Statistician John P. Wymer set out to document every inch of the city in 1948. Now a young historian is trying to get his work online.
D.C. divided up into equal-sized sections by John P. Wymer.
D.C. divided up into equal-sized sections by John P. Wymer. Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington, DC.

John P. Wymer was a statistician at the Bureau of Standards who moved to Washington D.C. from California in 1930. A decade later, between 1948 and 1952, he embarked on an eccentric personal project: He would extensively document the city he had come to call home.

Wymer, a meticulous man, divided up the city into 57 sections of equal size, numbered them, and mapped each of them by hand. Then he photographed sample blocks and wrote down his impressions of the demographic and architectural characteristics of each. After four years, he’d compiled 4,000 snapshots—freeze-frames of life in the rapidly changing U.S. capital.