Who designed the London Underground map and when?

The London Underground map is a staple of the city (Picture: Stephen Chung / Lnp / REX / Shutterstock)

Big red buses, the Thames, and the eye – London has lots of iconic features, but arguably none more than the London Underground map.

Its clear, colour-coded lines are the way most of us visualise the capital, even if it isn’t really a map at all and is more of a diagram of the Underground network.

But the map wasn’t always so accessible and has gone through many versions to achieve its final, well-known design.

So when was the first London Underground map created and who designed it?

Here is everything you need to know.

When was the first London Underground map created?

Before we had the London Underground map as we know it today, there was a design released in 1907.

In 1907, The Evening News commissioned a pocket map, The Evening News London Tube Map.

Early tube maps often omitted stations further out of the centre of London due to space (Picture HUM Images / Universal Images Group via Getty)

This was the first map to show all of the lines with equal weight being given to each tube line, and it was the first map to use a different colour for each line.

Another early combined map was published in 1908 by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in conjunction with four other underground railway companies that used the ‘Underground’ brand.

The map showed eight routes, omitting stations from further out of the centre to make the map easier to read.

Who designed the London Underground map?

The London Underground map as we now know it was designed by Harry Beck in 1931.

Beck was formally an engineering draughtsman for UERL but lost his job in the late 1920s due to funding cuts, but he still maintained an interest in London’s transport system.

Harry Beck’s original Tube map has been updated numerous times (Picture: TfL)

He set about trying to ‘tidy up’ the tube map by drawing stations, straight-line segments connecting them, the River Thames, and lines running only vertically, horizontally, or on 45° diagonals.

To emphasise connections, Beck differentiated between ordinary stations, marked with tick marks, and interchange stations, marked with diamonds.

London Underground was initially sceptical of his proposal, however, it immediately became popular and a topographical map has been used ever since.

After its initial success, he continued to design the Tube map until 1960, with the exception of a design by Hans Scheger in 1939 which didn’t take off.

Beck lived in Finchley, North London, and one of his maps is still preserved on the southbound platform at Finchley Central station, on the Northern line.

He died in 1974 at the age of 72.


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