The “President’s Globe” is big — really big and important. Weighing in at a whopping 750 pounds and sized at an impressive 50 inches in diameter, the globe was specially designed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt for use during World War II. The massive representation of the earth helped the president gauge distances over water to allocate personnel and material in support of the war effort against the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. This feat of cartographic history was given as a Christmas present to the president in 1942, and he placed the globe directly behind his office chair, often referring to it during his workday.
A matching globe was created for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a third for General George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Each man used his globe as a reference point when communicating with the others about the war.
The history of the globes was authoritatively documented by the American geographer and cartographer Arthur H. Robinson, who was the director of the map division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Robinson later taught geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1947 until 1980 and was highly influential in his field. He is well-known for creating the Robinson projection, a map projection for displaying the world that was adopted by Rand McNally and the National Geographic Society, among other organizations.
Robinson’s OSS team was responsible for the production and procurement of cartographic materials that were beyond the scope of other governmental and military sources. The President’s Globe was one such specially tailored OSS product. Robinson said the globes offered the leaders “a view rather like that of an astronaut today. That certainly would have helped them contemplate the immense strategic and logistical problems of a truly global conflict.”
The OSS mapmakers who worked on the project, however, never received personal credit. Instead, they left a “signature” by inserting their hometowns onto the sphere. One can only guess which towns or cities those might be among the 17,000 place names present.
The physical production of the globes was outsourced to Weber Costello Co., a company based in Chicago Heights, Illinois. The globes were constructed from two interlocking wooden sections. The company pasted the OSS-created globe gores on the massive sphere. The gores were 3-feet long and 4.5 inches at their widest point. Pasting them onto the globe was a great feat of craftsmanship. A copy of the gores is held by the Geography and Map Division, as seen below. The weight and size of the globe required that a special base be manufactured to hold and rotate it. The cradle employs rubber balls seated in steel cups to rotate the huge sphere.
The three duplicate globes owned by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Marshall were not the extent of the production run. Robinson placed the total number of globes between 12 and 15 but stated that the known records of Weber Costello Co. records are seemingly incomplete, which precludes a more definitive statement on the count. Roosevelt’s own globe is now part of the former president’s library and museum in New York.
Nonetheless, one globe that previously resided in the House of Representatives is on display in the Geography and Map Division Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Today, visitors to the division are welcome to see the globe, just one of our amazing cartographic artifacts.