International Geophysical Year, a Giant Globe, and Historical Maps

In 1958 students entering Columbia University’s Geology Library were confronted with a six-foot-tall inflatable rubber globe, on display as part of an exhibit on maps. Although they may have been unaware, the 18-month year from July 1957 to December 1958 had been designated International Geophysical Year by the International Council of Scientific Unions. The result was a global series of research projects on the solar system and Earth and a parallel outpouring of exhibits on geophysics. The globe only reached Columbia after first stopping in 1957 at New York department store Abraham & Straus, which had hosted an exhibit on "12 Centuries of Maps."

In the photo Columbia Professor of Geology Rhodes W. Fairbridge (left)  and then Columbia President Dr. Grayson Kirk (right), inspect the globe.

The globe was loaned to Columbia by the White Plains, New York, company Geo-Physical Maps, Inc. An article in The Professional Geographer 9:1 (1957) noted it was

6 ft. 3 in. in diameter, giving a surface scale of 1:6,720,000 and a vertical exaggeration of relief features on a sliding scale which averages about 40:1. It is cast in a rubber shell about 1/8 in. thick, held in shape by an air inflated plastic bladder. It weighs about 100 lbs., and moves freely in any direction on a base ringed with ball bearing steel casters. The cost, with base, is about $7,500, depending on the painting desired. A similar globe can be made of rigid plastic and mounted with an axis and motor for approximately $10,000.

According to Measuring Worth, today the globe would cost $76,000 (using the Consumer Price Index) or $172,000 (using nominal GDP per capita).

Many of the maps that were part of the Geology Library collection are now part of the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Historical Map Collection (here is an example of the Mason Dixon Line from 1768 from the holdings).  Alas, the giant inflatable globe was not able to join the permanent collection.


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