Mapmaker Phil Arnold dies at 96

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



For a segment filmed by Seattle's King TV when Phil Arnold was 85, visit

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Phil Arnold definitely left his mark on the Vancouver area.

For more than 60 years, Arnold created maps that illustrated the growth of Clark County.

Arnold, 96, died Saturday at the Hough neighborhood home he shared with his wife, Helen, for almost 71 years. It was a home that doubled as a business office for Arnold Map Service.

For a segment filmed by Seattle’s King TV when Phil Arnold was 85, visit

The maps were sold downstairs; Arnold’s mapmaking office was upstairs. That’s where he carefully inked every new road, drew every new school and lettered the name of every new street that filled in the county’s cartographic blanks.

He did it all by hand, long after most people choose to — or are forced to — call it a career.

“He had cataract surgery after his 90th birthday,” Janice Arnold said. “His eyes were so critical.”

In addition to his keen eyes, “What was so incredibly amazing was his steady hand. He could draw these tiny things: really amazing,” she said.

He is survived by Helen, their sons, Phil Jr. and Dean, and daughter Janice.

Phil Jr. and his wife, Kathy, have been operating the business for the past few years and will continue to sell Arnold’s maps.

Arnold’s old-school craftsmanship got a nod from Gov. Chris Gregoire a few days after he turned 90 on Oct. 27, 2005. The Arnolds visited her Olympia office, where Gregoire issued a proclamation describing him as “most likely the oldest working cartographer in the world.”

Gregoire noted that his hand-inked technique for creating map masters, which then are photographed as part of the printing process, is very labor intensive but highly accurate. “Hand drawing maps is a rare art, and Mr. Arnold is credited with keeping this technical art alive,” she said in the proclamation.

Arnold thanked the governor by creating some maps with a couple of streets that don’t actually exist: Gregoire Way and Chris Lane.

‘Living one’s passion’

Arnold was working as a civil engineer for the city of Vancouver in the late 1940s when a guy came into his office. The visitor wanted to sell a city map, and was looking for some information, according to a 2005 story in The Columbian.

After thinking it over for a few days, Arnold decided “to make my own map,” he told The Columbian. Arnold went into business in 1950.

“Every day, he had a ritual,” said Janice Arnold, who grew up in a home where the breakfast table was part of the family business. “He would read The Columbian over breakfast, then look at building permits.”

Even when there wasn’t a business groundbreaking or a new subdivision that required an update, mapmaking still was a continual process for her father, Janice Arnold said.

“When he didn’t have a new road to put on it, one of his jobs was tracing every name in a map and making it a tiny bit bigger,” she said.

Instead of using computer technology for generating names and addresses, Arnold used stencil-like metal templates to guide his finely tipped ink pen.

When Arnold died Saturday, his work wasn’t done. Arnold was working on a 2012 map of Vancouver, his daughter said.

“What a testament to living one’s passion,” she said.

Janice Arnold said she and Phil Jr. “will see if we can publish the 2012 map in his honor.”