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A Brief History of the Globe

The World Is Not Flat

Fantasy map of a flat earthWhile everybody now knows that the world is a sphere, it is a relatively recent idea in the history of humanity, along with being a great and hard fought victory for reason. For tens of thousands of years, people generally thought that the earth was flat, having observed the apparent horizontal nature of the ground that they stood on. Still, some inconvenient truths appeared to be incongruous with the flat earth theory. For example, why did the sun rise in the east and set in the west day after day? Why do the stars appear to move in a circular direction around the night sky?

In the 6th century BC, Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (or Parmenides in the 5th century BC, depending on who you ask) was the first known person in history to teach that the earth was a sphere. Around 240 BC, Eratosthenes, the Greek mathematician and astronomer, became the first person to calculate the earth's circumference, along with the planet's tilt. Using math and reason, he calculated both with a stunning accuracy from the town of Alexandria, Egypt. Eratosthenes' influence did not stop there, he almost single-handedly created the field of Geography in his three-volume book Geographika. As a librarian at the Library of Alexandria, he had access to a large collection of travel documents. Through research and consultation, Eratosthenes divided the world into five climate zones and put the locations of over 400 cities on a map. He also developed a grid to cover his map of the earth, being the first to come up with the idea of parallels and meridians which are still used on maps to this day and made it possible to estimate where one is in relation to other locations.



From Maps to Globes

crate oc mallus Globe of Crates

Despite the astonishing achievement of Eratosthenes in establishing the practice of Geography and advancing the practice of cartography, it was Hipparchus who later further refined the idea of latitudes and longitudes. Still, map making predates both of those figures, and was found in ancient Babylon around the 9th century BC and also in other parts of the world, like China. However, the problem of representing the three dimensional earth on a two dimensional surface was an issue from the very beginning of map making that plagued ancient cartographers, and one that continues to trouble geographers to this day. As a result of the earth's spherical nature, a globe remains the most accurate way to represent earth's geography without distortion; all maps feature some degree of misrepresentation of the size and shape of the earth's largest features.

Erdapfel Erdapfel Globe

After discovering the earth's spherical properties, Crates of Mallus, another Green philosopher, made the earliest known world globe in the 2nd century BC. The so-called Globe of Crates has not survived history, but was written about by Strabo. The globe contained four continents in between large rivers and oceans. The oldest world globe that is still around today is the famous Erdapfel, which was designed and constructed by Martin Behaim in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1492. The Americas are not to be found on the Erdapfel, and would not appear on globes for about another decade. Later on, the Dutch would become known for their excellent cartography, making the finest maps and globes for their time.



Modern Globe Making

While most globes are depictions of the earth, there is also a long history of celestial globes, which depict the stars in the night sky on a three dimensional sphere. More recently planet globes have come into fashion, representing the other celestial bodies in our solar system. Artists (like the one pictured below by legendary New York painter Jean-Michel Basquiat) have used globes to make more abstract, spherical art pieces that are not directly related to geography. However, world globes still dominate the efforts of most manufacturers preoccupied with the art of globe making. In globe making, there is great variation in earth's depiction. Many globes show the political division of the planet through multicolored landmasses that feature shading that separates each country from one another.

basquiat Basquiat's "Metal Globe"

Still. other globes focus on the earth's physical attributes, and show the planet in its natural color scheme and without country divisions. Other models are based on the antique colored parchment maps of yesteryear, while some modern models opt out of both the blue and beige ocean style by replacing the ocean with alternate hues, like the pictured Krauchenwies globe.



Columbus Globes

Columbus Globes enters the picture in 1909. Started over 100 years ago by Paul Oestergaard, the German company has stayed in the family for four generations, all the while maintaining its prestige as the world’s premier globe maker. The business’ headquarters remain in Germany to this day, and the globes' have retained the high quality craftsmanship and visionary invention Columbus built its reputation on.

krauchenwies Krauchenwies Globe

Columbus Globes innovated many techniques that are commonplace in the globe industry today, including technology that allows different maps to be displayed depending on whether the globe is illuminated or not. Also, they were the first to produce plastic globes. However, Columbus is still committed to their traditional artisan roots. Maps are manually applied to the spheres to this day, and Columbus is the only manufacturer on earth that still hand-blows glass globes, which allows for the greatest illumination and clarity. When it comes to globes, nothing tops the exceptional German engineering and sophisticated design of Columbus. The manufacturer has been committed to inventing new processes while keeping traditional techniques that have withstood the test of time. When it comes to globes, there is no company around that commands the respect that Columbus does.

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