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Rand McNally & Company Geo-Physical Relief Globes

September 5, 2011

As many of my good friends know, I just can’t shut up about my current historical research project on the Rand Mcnally & Company Geo-Physical Earth globes. I am aiming in the coming months to turn my findings into a unique book which will discuss how these globes fitted into North American Cold War culture and became prominent features of some of our major public institutions. Although these pieces are no longer being constructed, and while Rand McNally is but a shell of what it was during much of the 20th Century as a map-making corporation, the globes that still stand represent the greatness of American cartographic history. Not only did map making reach new heights after World War II due to the highly improved technology of aerial photography and satellite space imagery, but the artistry that went into molding and painting these incredible spheres became much more labor intensive and detailed. The above image shows the topography of much of Central Asia as well as different shades of blue in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Such features reflected the benefits of space rockets and satellites and the new discoveries in tectonics and oceanography that they provided. Indeed, for the first time in human history, post-World War II Earthlings were able to  see with unprecedented accuracy what their Home actually looked like from space.

This particular globe still exists at the Canada Science and Technology Museum after it was erected for the facility’s opening in 1967. Founding director Dr. David Baird’s vision saw that this globe was placed at the center of the museum’s floor in order to teach young visitors the basics of the planet’s function in outer space  and to provide lessons about Earth’s four seasons, different time zones, and degrees of latitude and longitude. Baird believed in this globe as a museum so much that he recycled the same idea when he opened the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta in 1985.

Amazingly, American cartographic history during the same period also meant advances in lunar mapping. Just like the Earth globes, Rand McNally was able to construct 6-foot diameter moons that gave viewers an idea of what our neighbouring rock in the sky looked like, right down to its most specific craters and crevices. The pieces were so popular when they were constructed in the sixties and seventies that astronauts from various space missions actually posed with the globes in Rand McNally warehouses . The Canada Science and Technology Museum at some point retained one of these objects and currently has it on display to support its Let’s Talk Energy exhibit.

Ultimately these globes  represent popular artefacts during post-war museum development (especially in the United States and Canada), reveal the extent of detailed mapping data achieved by geographers, cartographers, geologists, photographers and artists, and overall show the benefits that came with exploring outer space. To this day, anywhere that the globes are encountered, they truly evoke the wonder and beauty when science and art come together.

Related Links

Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon

Audrey Hepburn’s Moon River

ACDC’s What’s Next to the Moon

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