How Cloth Maps Helped in WW2

I was watching The Blaze today – Glenn Beck’s The Vault Series, which offers wonderful, factual historical truth.  I learned the most amazing facts about how maps were printed on FABRIC to be hidden and kept safe from even the enemy searching our captured soldiers.  How?  Where were these maps hidden?  Inside the uniform’s collar!  The presenters reasoned that when being searched, of course pockets were checked, but stitched inside a collar? Likely not!  I’m surprised I didn’t see these in the New Orleans WWII Museum this last summer, but that museum is SO large and interesting, they may well be shown there and I missed them.

So, today I let my ‘fingers do the walking’ and searched online to find these additional points of interest, especially about the actual fiber content of this maps.  On the series, they were called ‘Silk’ maps – but I honestly doubted that lightweight silk would have held up to the demands of such maps…. I was correct as you’ll find when you read on.

From THIS SOURCE, I found the following information:


“The United States’ first venture in the production of cloth escape maps during World War II began in the later part of October 1942 in response to an Army Air Force (AAF) request for the Army Map Service (AMS) to produce 2,000 cloth maps of  West Africa at a scale of 1:5,000,000.  The cloth map, known as the Road Map of West Africa, was printed in three colors and had to be delivered in less than one week.[46]  There was no complete paper map sheet of this entire area so the cloth map was compiled from three different automobile tourist road maps of different scales published by Michelin, which resulted in the need to print three different map legends, one for each respective map section.  The map contains the normal tourist information with locations of hotels, gas stations, telegraph, telephone and postal facilities.  The maps even depict camel trails and indicate the time required to travel by camel between different points.”

Fabric: Acetate Rayon fabric map

 The Army Map Service Finds a Suitable Fabric

        In early 1943, the AAF unofficially informed the Army Map Service that AAF would require 75 to 100 different escape and evasion cloth maps in editions of 2,000 each within the year.  The Army Map Service canvassed the commercial lithographic industry and decided that the Kaumagraph Company of Wilmington, Delaware, was best suited to research the problem due to its long and varied experience with lithography on cloth and its close proximity to both the DuPont Corporation and Washington, DC, where the Army Map Service was located.  In early March 1943, Mr. Thomas H. Miller, Vice President and Treasury of Kaumagraph, was given a sample of a British RAF viscose rayon map and was requested to furnish printed samples on a similar fabric.[50]

        On March 10, 1943, Kaumagraph called the Army Map Service suggesting that acetate rayon with a 100 denier, 110 count might be a suitable material for printing the cloth maps.[51]  Acetate rayon was selected over viscous rayon because viscous rayon contains moisture and has a tendency to mildew, while acetate rayon is a dry yarn and is not so affected.  Furthermore, although both fibers are made from wood pulp, because viscous rayon is highly water adsorbent it stretches and shrinks easily when wetted, while acetate rayon does not.  Also, acetate rayon is plasticized when heated.

cloth map example

Sew… there is your answer:   have it:  The fiber content best for printing upon to last:  Acetate Rayon.

I hope you found this fact interesting.  For more about textile-related points of interest during WWII days, check out my 6-part series of posts re WW2.  HERE is the link to Part 1.

It has iced and SNOWED here in West TN, and now it is COLD.  We live on a hill with a VERY steep driveway, so I’m ‘snowed in’!!!!!  Yesterday, I finished my extensive preparation for taping 3 episodes in Cleveland for It’s Sew Easy TV series, so today – I get to SEW SEW SEW!!!  A new product is in the works………watch for new postings about my progress!


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1 Response

  1. She Parrott says:

    I found this very interesting! My father-in-law was a WWII pilot of a B-17bomer & other planes but the” Flying Fortress” was his main transport in Europe. I never remembered hearing of the silk maps before.And we try to learn about WWII all we can. Amazing, the concept of maps on soft thin material so it could be hidden.( Acetate Rayon).I wonder if anyone makes scarves of great material of maps today. Guess I could google that.I like maps & no hiding them now. Thanks, Londa.

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