J. Peter Lesley's guide made the historical geographical information system (HGIS) of the American iron industry possible. Lesley was ambitious for the United States to become a self-sufficient industrial nation. He joined leading East Coast iron company owners to form the American iron association in 1855. Many scholars working with HGIS feel the tension between wanting to build a machine to answer particular historical questions and building a bigger machine to answer all the questions that emerge during research. The last weakness of HGIS and its practitioners is familiar to all of us who have tried to straddle the boundary between history and geography. Because of its native categorical structure and mathematical architecture, geographical information system plays best to social scientific, quantitative inquiry. Maps created out of GIS layers exacerbate the problem because the usual aesthetics of digital cartography have none of the irregularity, imperfection, texture, ambiguity, or complexity of human experience.