Did you know ...

... that the first American-made globe was made in Bradford?

The Bradford Historical Society faced a dilemma. It was 2009. 199 years earlier, in the town of Bradford, VT, James Wilson created the first American-made globe, and the Bradford Historical Society wanted to display one of Wilson's first globes for the upcoming bicentennial celebration in 2010. But their Wilson globe had been abused. Someone had used it as a ball. Someone else had coated it with varnish. Additionally, the globe was missing the central axis that maintained its appropriate tilt. However, the historical society knew that this globe was a priceless treasure. It was one of the few made in Bradford and like all of the globes created that year, it was not dated.

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According to legend, James Wilson’s quest to create an American globe began when he glimpsed a globe at Dartmouth College while traveling to Hanover from his family’s farm Londonderry, NH. Until that point, nearly all the globes were made in Europe and were expensive to ship. Only a few Americans had seen a globe and fewer owned one. After that brief sighting, Wilson was determined to design a version that could be used in schools and homes across the country.    

Born in 1763, Wilson’s formal education ended after elementary school, but he was a “wonderful example of Yankee ingenuity and perseverance,” says Larry Coffin, curator and board member at Bradford’s Historical Society. Wilson sold some cows and bought an Encyclopedia Britannica, which he used to teach himself cartography. Later, he walked from his home in Bradford to New Haven, CT and to Charlestown, MA for assistance with graving and proportions. After many failures, he finally succeeded in creating an affordable, attractive globe. He manufactured several globes in Bradford, VT, but Wilson soon built a factory in Albany, NY to be closer to his market. He later returned to Bradford after retiring and died at home in 1855.

In the 1960s, Bradford’s Historical Society purchased one of the original globes from a woman living in White River Junction for $50. For many years, the globe was displayed in the lobby of the Bradford National Bank and, once it was built, in Bradford’s Historical Society Museum.  

As the bicentennial of Wilson’s first globe approached, the historical society decided to repair the globe and sent it to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for evaluation and repairs. The conservation center estimated that it would cost $25,000 to clean and stabilize. Concerned the historical society could not raise that much money, they requested a second plan for restoration. But by the time the museum came up with a simpler plan, generous benefactors had already supplied the full amount needed for a complete cleaning and stabilization.

The globe would be ready to display by the bicentennial, but such an artifact needed an equally stunning case. Copeland Furniture donated a custom display case. Coffin discussed the specifications with a representative of Copeland Furniture. “We worked together to find something appropriate,” Coffin says.

The completed display case reflected the style of the Victorian era in which the globe was crafted. Copeland Furniture installed a drawer where the museum could add desiccants if the room’s humidity threatened the globe. They also placed a mirror at the bottom of the case, to allow viewers a chance to see the South Pole. Finally, the historical society had a Bradford-made globe displayed in a case also made in Bradford.

The globe and its case were prominently displayed in Bradford’s Historical Society Museum in time for the bicentennial celebration. Visitors to the museum can still enjoy a close view of the globe. “The globe is our most prized item,” Coffin says.

The Bradford Historical Society Museum, where the globe is displayed, is open every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon from June to October. It can also be viewed by special appointment by calling (802) 222-9621 or (802) 222-4423. 


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