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Globe University featured article...

Where did they go?
The disappearing US globe manufacturers.

By Larry Murray

You are undoubtedly familiar with the phenomenon referred to as “the world is getting smaller”. After all, even though it has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years, the rate of shrinkage has increased almost exponentially in the last 50 years!

To provide a quick historical perspective; the world was a pretty big place when traversing its surface was accomplished on foot. It got a tiny bit smaller with the introduction of draft and riding animals. At least when astride a horse, or riding in a wagon drawn by a draft animal, it wasn’t solely human muscles that powered the journey.

The shrinking world really came into its own with the implementation of mechanical power. Unlike muscle power, a steam locomotive didn’t get tired, and propeller driven ships weren’t left becalmed in the middle of the ocean when the wind no longer filled the sails. Trains, automobiles, airplanes, and eventually jet aircraft, have all made their contribution to reducing the time required to travel long distances. Today you can traverse the globe in hours rather than in days, weeks, months, or even the years that would have been required even a few generations ago!

The speeds we have attained for physical travel are truly impressive but they fade to seeming insignificance when compared to the virtually instantaneous speed with which we can communicate to almost any location on earth. Snail mail has been largely replaced with email which is delivered within minutes. Telephone, fax, texting, video conferencing, each delivers our message almost instantly to virtually any location on the planet. Indeed, at no other time in human history has the speed and convenience of travel and communication made our earth seem as tiny as it does now.

So; you might ask, what does the shrinking nature of the world have to do with world globes?

Today we are experiencing another type of shrinkage and it has less to do with distance and time and more to do with diminishing choices. With a history dating back to 150 B.C., globes have been crafted, exhibited, and used for over 2,000 years! During the “Age of Exploration”, globes were an indispensible scientific tool for capturing and displaying the wealth of new information flowing back from expeditions sent out to explore and chart every continent and ocean.

The thriving European globe manufacturing pioneers of the 15th through 17th century were joined by dedicated 19th and 20th century practitioners in the United States. Over the years there have been thousands of globe styles crafted by hundreds of skilled craftsmen, working in scores of companies and factories. Numerous American globe manufacturers have put forward their hopes, dreams, and livelihoods, embodied in the globes they crafted and sold to consumers throughout North America and around the world.

Over the years many US globe manufacturers closed their doors or were acquired by other companies, continuing on in blended organizations. Mainstays of yesteryear have faded to irrelevance for many, or to the status of sought after collectible for the fortunate few.

With the economic turmoil and globalization of the past decade, the changes in an already highly consolidated globe manufacturing industry appear to be accelerating even more. Approximately one decade ago, at the turn of the millennium, there were three major globe manufacturers operating  in the United States.

In 2000; George F Cram Company, founded in on March 18, 1867 as Blanchard & Cram, was a major contender in the area of reference globes for education, home, and office use. Approximately 60 years junior to the venerable George F Cram Company, Replogle Globes Inc., was founded in 1930 in a Chicago apartment. In the ensuing years, Replogle globes established itself as a quality manufacturer of reference globes for the classroom, office, and home. The relative newcomer in US globe manufacturers was Spherical Concepts Inc., founded in 1981. Spherical Concepts carved out a unique niche for themselves by creating beautiful acrylic globes that are decorative as well as functional.

Fast forward five years to February of 2005. Herff Jones Inc., successfully acquired the George F Cram Company. Two years later; in 2007, Herff Jones Inc., acquired Spherical Concepts Inc. Three years later, in August 2010, Herff Jones Inc., completed the acquisition of Replogle Globes Inc., the only remaining US globe manufacturer.

As a result of their ongoing consolidation effort, Herff Jones Inc., is totally remaking the US globe manufacturing industry.

  • On May 26, 2011 Herff Jones Inc., closed the Spherical Concepts Inc., manufacturing facility and transferred the remaining Artline brand inventory to the George F Cram division. Once the remaining Arline inventory is sold, the Arline and Sperhical Concepts brands will terminate.
  • On June 24th, Herff Jones Inc., announced its intention to close the George F Cram division, including all of its manufacturing operations. Closure of the George F Cram division is scheduled for January 1, 2012.

In six short years, the globe manufacturing industry in the United States has totally changed. With the cessation of operations, Spherical Concepts Inc., with their Arline brand have become a historical player. In January of 2012, George F Cram Company and its venerable brand will also be relegated to the pages of history. In spite of my personal acquaintance with both Spherical Concepts Inc., and George F Cram Company, and my understandable nostalgic longing that the brands continue to be a part of my life, I am in no way trying to pass judgment on the right or wrong of the events and decisions that have led to our present circumstances.

Finally; what do recent events mean to you, the individual who uses a globe professionally or perhaps just for personal enjoyment? While it is always a chancy thing to try to foresee the future, and is always risky to record your prognostications, I will nevertheless offer a few opinions regarding what I anticipate the future holds.

  1. At least in the short term our selection of globes will not be as rich and varied as it has been for the past quarter of a century.
  2. The extraordinary beauty of the Arline style of acrylic globes will be relegated to either extremely small specialty niches or will disappear all together. As with any “classic” product that requires individual craftsmanship and large expenditures of skilled labor, the labor intensive product eventually loses out to less labor intensive alternatives that deliver the necessary utility if not exactly the same aesthetic experience.
  3. With the advent of digital mapping media and its ever increasing ease of access, the demand for globes is likely to continue to decrease, at least insofar as their use as a reference tool. This may well lead to even further consolidations not just in the US but globally as well.
  4. Physical World Globes will continue to be the best tool for teaching about our planet earth when it comes to conveying accurate geographic relationships, and conveying the information as part of a tactile experience. (At least until scientists can provide us with a 3 dimensional tactile hologram. Of course that would still be a world globe... so my point remains.)
  5. Globes will continue to symbolize and convey that inexplicable something that has attended them for hundreds of years. Of all the possible symbols for knowledge, education, wisdom, wealth, scientific achievement, and prestige, it seems to be significant that the globe has always been perhaps the most universally and frequently used. I believe this aura will continue to associate with world globes into the foreseeable future.
  6. If you own a George F Cram or Spherical Concepts globe, take good care of it. It will likely become a collectible and over time may even turn out to be one of the truly valuable ones, like some Weber Costello or other vintage globes.

I stated earlier that we are currently experiencing diminished choices. My statement was in context of the number of world globe choices that are and will be available to us in the coming years. To some extent I believe the shrinking globe choices, just like the shrinking size of the world, are a result of technological advances, or “progress” if you prefer. Perhaps from a broader perspective, the evolution of digital maps and globes will ultimately offer us greater choices and flexibility than at any time in human history. However, for those of us imbued with a fascination and love for world globes, I can only hope that our available options will always be enriched by being able to choose a tangible, physical globe!

About the Author: Larry Murray considers himself to be an amateur globe enthusiast who enjoys not only studying World Globes but delights in sharing the results of his personal study and experience. Larry invites you to learn more about World Globes and Gemstone Globes on the World Wide Web. Share your knowledge or ask questions at the Globe University, part of the World Globe Universe at http://www.worldglobeu.com.

Note from the author: One my pet peeves with articles on the Internet is the fact that they seldom display a date for when they were written or published. Admittedly, some articles are "evergreen" and the content never becomes dated. However, the content of this article is not evergreen. While I hope it will provide a valuable historical reference, the applicability and value of the message will undoubtedly change over time. Thus, I feel it is important to note this article was published on August 30, 2011.

Copyright © 2011 Larry C. Murray. All rights reserved. (Permission for limited distribution of this article is granted for noncommercial use, as long as the article is transmitted and displayed in its entirety, including this copyright notice. Such limited noncommercial distribution must be without fee or cost.)

Used with permission by Interface Network Inc., DBA World Globe Universe.

Access a printer friendly version of the article, Evaluating the Quality of Gemstone Globes.

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