Meet Richard Furno (Kelso)

My friend and cartography colleague Richard Furno retired from The Washington Post as of January 1st, 2009. He had a long and productive career first at National Geographic Maps starting in 1963 and then for 30 years at the newspaper making daily, deadline driven maps for publication in the next day’s newspaper from 1978 to 2008. For many of those years, he was the newspaper’s Chief Cartographer and influenced a generation of cartographers. He was a victim of a changing media landscape and dreary economic times.

Richard has been a great mentor to me, encouraging me in my map making, strengthening my graphic design and visual story telling, and given me the courage to take up software programming. His love of maps brought out the best in those he worked with and has driven us to want to excel. He was the last (map) projectionist at National Geographic Maps and his insights about that science are one of a kind.

We are officially honoring Richard this week in the NewsArt department. The image above is a “roast” page that is a typical gift for departing colleagues with jokes and jabs mixed in with general vignettes (the page should be taken with a grain of salt). View larger. Download PDF.


Recommendation by Michael Keegan
Former AME (Associate Managing Editor)
NewsArt Department
The Washington Post

Dick Furno by any other name would be… what? Map Man? Longitude Dude? The Prime Meridian? When you think of Dick Furno, you think maps. He is the man — the Map Man.

We all have someone we instinctively go to for answers about a particular subject. When it is a question of mapping or geography, I go to Dick Furno. No one else. Dick is my Map Man. Over the years I have know him, Dick has patiently explained to me many particulars of making and reading maps — about the best way of creating them and why one map projection may be better than another. But I think the most important lesson that he has taught me is the appreciation of maps themselves, and for the power and importance they hold.

This was especially true at The Washington Post were we worked together for nearly 24 years. The significance of maps to the Post’s reporting cannot be overemphasized. They located murder scenes and closed roads, school openings, fires and protest marches in the streets. They recorded armies moving across boarders, ships sinking, and political victories as well as the best locations for ice cream in the heat of summer.

Washington Post maps were rich with information and they packed that information in a small amount of space. Maps clarified stories, they made precise reference to location when the copy could not. And in the end, maps simply helped educate readers about the physical world they lived in, and that, in itself, was a noble cause.

Dick was cartography’s best evangelist at the newspaper. He set high standards and continuously raised those standards. He taught several generations of editors that their stories were so much more clear and authoritative with a map. And by the time of his recent retirement, Dick had build a team of excellent cartographers to carry on what he started at the newspaper — Map Man’s legacy.


Richard Furno the Map Maker

While he was at National Geographic, Richard worked on The Moon Map and I’ve posted an extensive photo essay on that project here. That is just one of the many fabulous projects he’s worked on. Here’s a small image gallery of a few others (click on thumbnails to see larger view):



Richard Furno the Programmer

Before there was ArcMap or ArcView there was Azimuth, a CAD based mapping solution that we still use to this day at The Washington Post. It had geodatabases before that phrase was coined. It combines both thematic classes and layers into a single document where they can be freely mixed and matched, with multiple sets of database attributes, and Adobe Illustrator export. But more importantly, it also is the best tool out there for choosing an optimal map projection for the geography at hand and then quickly projecting raw data into a size appropriate for publication.

Richard saw the need for such a tool back in the 1980s when personal computers were just becoming available and taught himself how to program and steadily built in more functionality through the years.

I’ve noted significant milestones in Azimuth’s development below.


History of Azimuth

0.1 in 1982. IBM pc program command line, with menus. BASIC and then compiled. Could digitize with a 30  x 30 inch tablet output to pen plotter. All maps from 1980s mid in pen and paper. This is world loRes circa 1983, digitized world hiRes circa 1985.

1.0 in 1988. First Macintosh version via GraphSoft. From BASIC to Pascal. Only output perspectives… and could zoom in… Choose file and it would plot it (with a settings file) and output plot file.

2.0 in 1990 or 91. Now visible data layers.

2.5 in 1992. Mostly bug fixes, and new features.  Countries around 1992 or 3 which are all CIA country maps which became the basis for all the hires continentals (because they were from CIA).

3 skipped.

4.0 in 2001. Plugin to VectorWorks (known as MiniCad). Pascal to C++ in CodeWarrior.

4.5 in 2003. Raster image projection added. CodeWarrior.

5.0 in 2007. Modernizing code for new VectorWorks on Intel Macs.

5.5 in 2009. Adds new projections, datum support, bug fixes. From C++ to Cocoa / Carbon. X-Code.

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3 Responses to “Meet Richard Furno (Kelso)”

  1. […] « Great Information Design Book: The Back of the Napkin (Kelso) Meet Richard Furno (Kelso) […]

  2. Robert Day says:

    Nathaniel, great articles on Dick Furno… I was trying to Google him and Dave Cook to see if I could contact them to tell them how much I have enjoyed the Moon map over these past 40 years (and use it as a teaching tool for my Earth Science students) and found your blog. I have not found any way to contact them, if you could provide me with any contact info (provided they wouldn’t mind) I would be grateful. If not, perhaps you could forward my thanks to them for the tremendous effort they put in to that masterpiece. Hard to believe their names are not credited on the map itself… thank goodness NGS had the wherewithal to do the article in the Feb 1969 edition! Thanks… Robert Day, Midway College, Midway KY

  3. It’s a very interesting article, thank you. I just had to say how much I love the picture! Most excellent 🙂