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Library of Congress Geography & Maps: An Illustrated Guide

Globes and Terrain Models

The Necessity of the Knowledge of the Use of the Globes, Sphere, and Orrery, for an easy Conception and due Understanding of the first Principles of Geography, Astronomy, Dialling, Navigation, Chronology, and other liberal Sciences, is known to every one; and is the first consideration among those Qualities requisite for forming the Scholar and the Gentleman.

The Description and Use of Both the Globes, the Armillary Sphere, and Orrery, 176?

Globes and Globe Gores

Advertisement poster for Evans' Excelsior globes from 1899 which has representations of 5 globes and some descriptive text
R.O. Evans and Company. Evans' Excelsior globes : manufactured by R. O. Evans and Company. 1899. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Miniature representations of the earth in the form of globes and terrain models have a long history, and are well represented in the collections by more than 300 terrestrial and celestial globes, armillary spheres, 150 globe gores (the paper segments used in the construction of globes), illustrations of globes, and treatises on globe construction and use. Globes come in a wide variety of sizes and formats, including pocket globes which were usually enclosed in fish-skin cases, inflatable globes, dissected globes, and folded items such as R. Buckminster Fuller's "Dymaxion Globe."

The earliest surviving globes were produced in Germany. The division acquired an exact facsimile of the oldest extant European globe, which was made by Martin Behaim of Nuremberg in 1492. Germany was also the site of the construction of the division's rarest globe, which was produced in 1543 by the Cologne mathematician and geographer, Caspar Vopell. It consists of a small manuscript terrestrial globe housed within a series of eleven interlocking armillary rings which illustrates the rotation of the sun, moon, and stars in the Ptolemaic tradition.

In 1984 the Library purchased a pair of large, rare terrestrial and celestial globes constructed in 1688 and 1693, respectively, by the famed Venetian cosmographer and globe maker, Vincenzo Coronelli. Each measures 110 centimeters in diameter and stands nearly two meters high on heavy mahogany stands. This terrestrial globe is noted for depicting California as an island. The Library of Congress also owns a copy of Coronelli's 1696 eighteen-inch terrestrial globe (which was presented to William III) and a copy of his extremely rare Libro dei Globi, an atlas which includes all the globe gores published by Coronelli.

In addition to these rarities, the Library's collections include a matched pair of nine-inch terrestrial and celestial globes by the renowned Dutch map maker, Jodocus Hondius, constructed in Milan in 1615 by Joseph di Rossi; a pair of twelve-inch celestial and terrestrial globes produced in 1816 by the London map maker, Matthew Cary; a twenty-centimeter globe by Johann Doppelmayr dated 1750; and a seven-centimeter pocket globe by John Senex produced circa 1730.

Globes were widely used as educational tools in nineteenth-century America and were more popular than their current representation in American museums and libraries would suggest. Through a combination of gifts and purchases, twenty-five globes from the estate of Howard E. Welsh, the preeminent collector of American globes, was acquired in 1991.

America's first commercial globe maker, James Wilson (1763—1855), who was largely self-taught in geography and the techniques of engraving and globe construction, constructed his first globe in 1810, determined to produce globes that equaled those then being imported from England. The Library holds a copy of his second published work, a thirteen-inch terrestrial globe constructed in 1811, three variant copies of his three-inch globes, and six of his thirteen-inch terrestrial and celestial globes. Other leading early American globe makers whose works are found in the collections include A. H. Andrews & Co., Silas Cornell, Brown and Peirce, Josiah Holbrook, Gilman Joslyn, Josiah Loring, David C. Murdock, and John B. Pendleton.

During most of the division's history, the acquisition of globes and globe gores depended primarily upon copyright deposits; therefore, the collection is particularly strong for late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century globes and globe gores produced by major U.S. publishing houses such as Weber Costello, Cram, National Geographic Society, Rand McNally, and Replogle.

In addition, the division has two custom-made, floor-mounted showcase globes:

  • The "President's Globe," a 50-inch sphere designed and compiled by the Office of Strategic Services during World War II for Allied war leaders. Manufactured by the Weber-Costello Company in Chicago in 1942, one copy was presented to Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt that December, and another to Sir Winston Churchill. Copies were also displayed in the House and Senate Chambers in the U.S. Capitol. The globe, formerly in the House of Representatives, was transferred to the Library of Congress on October 15, 1946.
  • A 74-inch replica of planet Earth which was received in 1980 on loan from the National Archives, where it was presented by the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation in honor of Antarctic explorers Capt. and Mrs. Finn Ronne. One of eight globes designed and constructed by Terr-A-Qua Globes and Maps, Inc., between 1966 and 1973, the globe depicts in raised relief all three surface features—ocean floor, ocean surface, and continental topography. It is on display at the entrance to the Geography and Map Division.

Terrain Models

Square rebbelib used by the Marshallese to navigate the Pacific Ocean by canoe. Seashells depict atoll and island locations. Straight sticks represent regular currents or waves, and curved sticks depict ocean swells.
[Marshall Islands stick chart, Rebbelib type]. 192-?. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Another cartographic device used to represent or model portions of the Earth's surface is the three-dimensional relief map, generally constructed for military or educational purposes from plaster, papier-mâché, sponge rubber, or vinyl plastic. The division holds four examples of relief maps constructed by native peoples, including replicas of ancient Polynesian stick charts constructed of a framework of coconut palm or pandanus reeds and cowrie shells designed to represent the patterns of ocean currents and the locations of atolls and islands.

The core of the division's terrain model map collections consists of some two thousand molded plastic relief quadrangle maps produced by the U.S. Army Map Service (AMS) at a horizontal scale of 1:250,000. First produced during the Korean War, AMS maps eventually expanded geographical coverage to include virtually all of Asia, Europe, and North America. Although more than two million plastic relief reproductions were produced from the 2,000 master molds from 1951 to the 1970s, the division's collection is the only known complete collection available for study in a public facility.

Terrain models were used extensively by military forces during World War II. Although thousands were produced in portable workshops behind front lines, aboard warships, and in permanent establishments in Pearl Harbor, London, and Washington, D.C., few have survived. Fortunately for researchers, the division has several examples. These include models of Bangkok, Hong Kong, and two Pacific islands prepared by Navy terrain model units in Pearl Harbor and Washington, D. C., from 1944 to 1945. Constructed with the aid of aerial photographs and reconnaissance reports, these models were cast in rubber for use in amphibious operations.

Three-dimensional map of Crown Prince Islands off the west coast of Greenland constructed with sealskin and driftwood by the Inuit hunter Silas Sandgreen.
Silas Sandgreen. Map of the Crown Prince Islands, Disko Bay, Greenland. 1926. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Complementing this material is a large relief map of the Soviet Union in three sections and a three-dimensional prototype globe fabricated and donated by Leonard N. Abrams, a skilled globe and model maker who began his career as a terrain modeler with the Army Map Service during World War II.

In addition, the division holds a study collection of 300 commercial terrain models produced in the United States and Europe from the 1890s to the present. Many were constructed for use in school classrooms, for business and industry boardrooms, and for wall decorations in private homes. Models are still an important cartographic format, as demonstrated by a solid plastic tactile relief model in three sections of Capitol Hill and the Mall in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Congress in 1988, for the use of the blind and visually impaired, which is outside of the Geography and Map Reading Room.