Fathers of datavisualization: Henry Beck 1902-1974

Henry Beck was an English engineer who is remembered most for creating one of the most common info graphics- the Subway tube map. This map wasn’t initially well received by the London Underground Signals Office when it was first introduced as a pamphlet to the public. But, after a large positive response, the London Underground permanently changed their official map to Beck’s tube graphic.

Prior to the introduction of Beck’s map, Subway maps’ were geographically accurate, resembling the roadways on a city map. However, Beck thought that passengers were more concerned with understanding how to get from one station to the other leading him to develop his model. He chose to assign colors to different lines to make it even easier to understand how to travel on the subway system. His model has been adopted by public transportation services in many other cities throughout the world, including Washington D.C., Berlin, and Toronto.

Beck also worked on a diagram that included broader regions outside London that included the underground and mainlines. Though not commissioned to do so, Beck also worked on diagrams of the Paris Metro.  To recognize Beck’s work, one of the British locomotives bears Beck’s name and a commemorative plaque can be found at the Finchley Central Tube Station. Additionally, in March of 2006, the BBC voted Harry Beck's Tube map as their second-favorite British design of the 20th century in the Great British Design Quest. Henry Beck passed away September 18, 1974 in Southampton, England.