Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory Maps (The Bordner Survey)

The Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory (popularly known as the “Bordner Survey,” after its director, John Bordner) officially began in 1929, although it included work done as early as 1927.  Its mission was to document the current and potential use of land in all parts of the state of Wisconsin so that abandoned farms, cutover forests, and other “idle” land could be resettled, reforested, or otherwise put to productive use.  Today, these maps document the history of the Wisconsin landscape, particularly during the Depression era.

The Inventory operated as part of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Markets until 1937, when it was placed under the direction of the State Planning Board.  In 1941, it went back to the Department of Agriculture. It officially ended in 1947, though some maps continued to be updated by the Department of Agriculture after that time.

Field workers, mostly trained forestry graduates, crossed the land at intervals of one-half mile.  One of the goals was to set foot in every “forty” (40-acre quarter-quarter section) in the state. Hand-drawn field maps were produced for sections or groups of sections in a township. These maps, along with aerial photography and information from the original land survey of Wisconsin,  provided the raw material for the published maps.  The field maps are now housed in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Division. The Archives Division also has other maps originating from the survey.

Each county was mapped separately, with a separate sheet for each township as defined by the Public Land Survey System (for example “T.5N. R.6E.,” for “Township 5 North, Range 6 East”).  The corresponding civil town or towns with jurisdiction over the area are usually indicated at the top of the map. Often, but not always, the date of the map sheet and the initials of the cartographer are given on the upper right corner of the map.

Some of the features indicated on the maps are:

  • roads, including logging roads
  • fire lanes
  • trails
  • telephone lines
  • railroad lines
  • drainage ditches
  • quarries and gravel pits
  • springs
  • fur farms
  • nurseries
  • fire towers
  • golf courses
  • public dumps
  • orchards
  • houses, occupied and unoccupied
  • summer homes
  • school buildings
  • churches
  • town halls
  • cheese factories
  • creameries
  • filling stations
  • stores
  • taverns
  • hotels
  • saw mills and grist mills
  • logging camps

Land use and land cover at the time of the field survey are indicated by codes, such as “C” for crop land, “PP” for permanent pasture, “F4” for a cranberry marsh, and “TG” for a truck garden.  For forested land, the code indicates the predominant species; there are additional codes for the density of the stand and average diameter of the trees.  A key to the codes is at the bottom of each sheet.

The counties covered, with the approximate date of the survey are:

Adams County – 1938/1939 Green Lake County – 1938 Price County – 1938
Ashland County – 1930/1936 Iowa County – 1939 Racine County – 1934
Barron County – 1938 Iron County – 1938 Richland County – 1943
Bayfield County – 1928 Jackson County – 1938 Rock County – 1939
Brown County – 1945 Jefferson County – 1939 Rusk County – 1940’s
Buffalo County – 1945 Juneau County – 1933 St. Croix County – 1947
Burnett County – 1939 Kenosha County – 1934 Sauk County – 1940’s
Calumet County – 1939 Kewaunee County – 1939 Sawyer County – 1932
Chippewa County – 1947 La Crosse County – 1940’s Shawano County – 1935
Clark County – 1936 Lafayette County – 1939 Taylor County – 1939
Columbia County – 1939 Langlade County – 1933 Trempealeau County – 1945
Crawford County – 1943 Marathon County – 1939 Vernon County – 1942
Dane County – 1939 Marinette County – 1939 Vilas County – 1931
Dodge County – 1939 Marquette County – 1938 Walworth County – 1939
Door County – 1942/1945 Monroe County – 1939 Washburn County – 1938
Douglas County – 1933 Oconto County – 1942/1944 Washington County – 1939
Dunn County – 1938 Oneida County – 1939 Waukesha County – 1937
Eau Claire County – 1947 Outagamie County – 1943 Waupaca County – 1938
Florence County – 1941/1942 Ozaukee County – 1939 Waushara County – 1939
Fond du Lac County – 1939 Pepin County – 1940’s Winnebago County – 1940’s
Forest County – 1938 Pierce County – 1947 Wood County – 1938
Grant County – 1939 Polk County – 1938
Green County – 1939 Portage County – 1938

Maps were not done for Lincoln, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, and Sheboygan Counties.  Menominee County, which was created in 1961, is covered as part of Shawano, Oconto, and Langlade Counties. In some counties, areas covered by national forests or Native American reservation lands were not surveyed.

This collection of Wisconsin Land Inventory maps is part of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. It was compiled from the collections of Steenbock Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison; the Robinson Map Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  John Koch, Emeritus Senior Academic Librarian, Steenbock Library, assembled the collection with the help of Mary Galneder, Map Librarian, Robinson Library, and Gerry Strey, Map Curator, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Division. This project was developed in consultation with Amy Rudersdorf and Steven Dast of the UW Digital Collections Center.

This page was created by John Koch. For further information on John Bordner and the Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory maps, contact the Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

This page last updated December 20, 2004.