George F. Cram (1842-1928), served in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War. After the war ended, Cram joined his uncle Rufus Blanchard's Evanston map business in 1867. Two years later, he became sole proprietor of the firm and renamed it the George F. Cram Co. which became a leading map firm and first American firm to publish a world atlas. It employed a relief process called cerography which included the coloration of the map, thus eliminating the need for hand painting each map printed.
In 1856, William Rand opened a printing shop in Chicago and two years later hired a newly arrived Irish immigrant, Andrew McNally, to work in his shop. The shop did big business with the forerunner of the Chicago Tribune, and in 1859 Rand and McNally were hired to run the Tribune's entire printing operation. In 1868, the two men established Rand McNally & Co. and bought the Tribune's printing business. The company initially focused on printing tickets and timetables for Chicago's booming railroad industry, and the following year supplemented that business by publishing complete railroad guides. According to company lore, during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, Rand McNally quickly had two of the company's printing machines buried in a sandy beach of Lake Michigan, and the company was up and running again only a few days later.
The first Rand McNally map, created using a new cost-saving wax engraving method, appeared in the December 1872 edition of its Railroad Guide. Rand McNally began publishing educational maps in 1880 with its first line of maps, globes, and geography textbooks, soon followed by a world atlas. The company began publishing general literature in 1884 with its first title, The Secret of Success. Also in 1894, the company opened an office in New York City headed by Caleb S. Hammond, who later started his own map company, C. S. Hammond & Co..
Rand McNally published its first road map, the New Automobile Road Map of New York City & Vicinity, in 1904. In 1910, the company acquired the line of Photo-Auto Guides from G.S. Chapin, which provided photographs of routes and intersections with directions. Andrew McNally II (son of Frederick McNally) personally took photos on his honeymoon for the Chicago-to-Milwaukee edition.