When Luther Replogle quit his job during the Great Depression to make and sell globes, critics thought he’d mapped out a surefire route to failure. But Replogle had more than a novel idea; he had faith in his product.
“Luther came up with the credo that there should be a globe in every home,” says Dan Dillon, 53, co-president of Replogle Globes, the world’s largest globe manufacturer, in Broadview, Ill. (pop. 8,264).
In the late 1920s, Replogle was a salesman for a Chicago company that sold supplies, including globes, to schools. Replogle was convinced that information-hungry Americans would eagerly buy globes for their homes so they could pinpoint places that were in the news.
During the nation’s bleakest economic time, he quit his job, borrowed $500 from friends and family, and founded Replogle Globes in 1930. His wife, Elizabeth, and one employee made the cardboard and plaster globes in their basement and Replogle sold them from his Model T Ford. For three years, sales barely kept food on the table, but Replogle never lost faith in the power of globes to educate and inspire. In 1933, he got his break when he designed an 8-inch souvenir globe for the World’s Fair in Chicago. During the fair, Replogle sold more than 100,000 globes for $1.75 each—and put Replogle Globes on the map.
About the same time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt started his “fireside chats,” a series of radio talks in which he often began his remarks about foreign affairs by telling listeners, “Now, get out your globe.”
Today, 150 Replogle employees manufacture more than 100 models of globes, from 4.3-inch diameter orbs that sell for $9.99 to 32-inch handcrafted, illuminated masterpieces that retail for $8,500. The company sells more than a million globes printed in 20 languages each year, and people still get out their globes to track world events.
“We had our largest quarter ever at the start of the Gulf War,” says Dillon, referring to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “We had so many Americans going to the Middle East and parents wondered where these countries are.”
The appeal of the globe is its spherical shape. “Globes represent the Earth in its true perspective,” Dillon says. “It allows us to see our country and other countries in perspective. It’s a fine reference item.”
Dillon and co-president and brother-in-law Ed Dieschbourg, 52, have worked at the family business for more than 30 years and assumed leadership roles in 2001. Replogle Globes has had three owners: Luther Replogle sold the business to Meredith Publishing Co. in 1959, then Meredith sold to longtime employee William Nickels in 1973. Today, Nickels’ daughters, Mary Dillon and Pamela Dieschbourg, own the company.
Through the decades, globe-making has become more automated. Machines form the chipboard and plastic shells for the two hemispheres that make up each globe. Computer-drawn maps are cut into flower-petal sections, which are glued onto each hemisphere. Hemispheres are joined and the globe is mounted to its base.
The company’s 20-inch and 32-inch globes, however, are hand-covered, just like they were in 1930. Employee Lucina Miguel meticulously cuts a paper map into 12 sections with a razor, and with a steady hand glues each piece onto a plastic ball. The sections must align perfectly to complete the detailed, three-dimensional map.
“When I started to do this job, I could put two sections on in a day and cried because I could only do two,” says Miguel, 58, who has worked at Replogle since 1979. Today, she can complete one globe in about two days.
Supervisor Julian Diaz, 61, marvels at Miguel’s work. “It’s very tedious and detailed. Many people try and get the jitters.”
Replogle sells about 25 of the handcrafted works of art each year. Owners include U.S. presidents, corporate executives and celebrities. The large globes contain 20,000 place names, whereas smaller ones contain 4,000 to 6,000 names. To keep maps current, cartographers get the latest geographic information from the U.S. government.
While the globe’s educational value may be its best selling point, its appeal goes beyond geographic boundaries. “People like exploring and dreaming about relatives in faraway places and where they’d like to go,” Dieschbourg says. “A globe has a timeless fascination.”