Why did this non-existent town show up on maps of New York?

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Up until the 1990s, many maps of New York situated the tiny town of Agloe just north of Roscoe in the Catskill Mountains. The problem? Agloe, New York, was almost entirely fictitious, although it briefly existed on paper.

So how does a made-up town end up on a map? Simple: a mapmaker put it there. In this case, the mapmaker was the General Drafting Company, founded by Otto G. Lindberg. The company wanted to ensure that other mapmakers weren't simply copying their work, so in the 1930s they invented the fictional town of Agloe, placing it at an intersection along New York State Route 206. The name "Agloe" is an anagram of Lindberg's initials combined with those of his assistant, Ernest Alpers. The idea was that, if Agloe appeared on someone else's map, then the General Drafting Company would know that the map had been copied from one of their own. The town appeared on Esso road maps, using the General Drafting Company's data.


When Agloe later appeared on a Rand McNally map of New York, Esso charged Rand McNally with copying their maps. However, it turned out that Rand McNally had received the name and location of the town not from Esso's maps but from the Delaware County administration. It turned out that someone had built a general store at the Agloe intersection and, based on the name of the "town" on the Esso map, the owner named it the Agloe General Store. That was enough for the administration to register the town on paper.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

It was the Agloe General Store that brought Agloe into quasi-existence, and after it went out of business, the "town" eventually faded from maps. You can still, however, find its (unmarked) location on Google Maps.


Mapmakers aren't the only ones who have laid these copyright traps. The Rural Telephone Service Company included fictitious entries in its phone book to catch copiers and discovered their fake listings in a phone book published by Feist Publications. That case made it to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that factual information alone could not be copyrighted.

Agloe, the Paper Town Stronger than Fiction [Big Think]

Agloe, New York [Museum of Hoaxes]