A James Wilson globe, the father of American globe making, should be the cornerstone of any major collection. James Wilson (1763-1855), a Bradford, Vermont, farmer and blacksmith by trade, is the father of American globe making. Wilson was the first American to manufacture globes, having been inspired by European globes he saw at nearby Dartmouth College. A self-taught geographer and engraver, he not only made the globe spheres but designed, engraved and printed the cartographic gores for them. Wilson began his business in Bradford in about 1810. and in 1815 moved to New York State, opening a larger and better-equipped globe manufacturing facility at 110 Washington Street in Albany. In 1817, his eldest son Samuel joined the business and the following year, his son John became a primary partner with his father. Another son, David Wilson worked briefly in the family business, designing a three-inch globe. The firm of J. Wilson & Sons quickly became known as a globe making family enterprise. Cyrus Lancaster, a graduate of Dartmouth College and a school instructor, joined the firm in 1827. Following the deaths of Samuel and John Wilson, Lancaster continued as business manager, and two years later became a member of the family, marrying Samuel’s widow, Rebecca. Lancaster produced a number of globes in Albany under the Wilson name, the last dated one in 1845.
By 1810 Wilson noted sales of his hand-made globes in his account books (Tucker, 273; Haskins, 324; Dartmouth 3). An undated Wilson terrestrial globe in the Vermont Historical Society and another at Harvard University are thought to be examples of the 1810 Wilson terrestrial globes. In 1811, Wilson made the first known published and dated American terrestrial globe. In 1812 he issued the first published and dated American celestial globe.
Read more about the firm on our Guide to Globe Makers.
A NEW AMERICAN THIRTEEN INCH/ TERRESTRIAL GLOBE./ Exhibiting with the greatest possible Accuracy,/ THE POSITIONS OF THE PRINCIPAL KNOWN/ PLACES OF THE EARTH;/ With the Tracks of various Circumnavigators together with/ New Discoveries and Political Alterations down to/ The present PERIOD: 1831/ BY J. WILSON & SONS ALBANY ST. N.Y./ S. Wood & Sons Agent, N. York.
Oval cartouche: A NEW/ AMERICAN/ CELESTIAL GLOBE/ Containing the positions of nearly 5000/ Stars, Clusters, Nebulae, &c. Carefully compil’d/& laid down from the latest & most approv’d/ astronomical tables reduced to the present/ time./ By J. WILSON & SONS,/ 1826./ ALBANY — ST N.Y.
Dekker, Elly and van der Krogt, Peter. Globes from the Western World. London: Zwemmer, 1993. pp. 125, 130-33, 139. (illustrating Wilson globe in National Museum of American History)
Fowle, Richard J. “James Wilson’s Globes.” Vermont History, XXVIII. 1960. pp. 245-49.
Haskins, Harold Web. “James Wilson — Globe Maker.” Vermont History, XXVII. 1959. pp. 319-330.
Kimball, LeRoy E. “James Wilson of Vermont, America’s First Globe Maker.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts: 1938. pp. 29-48.
The Dartmouth Compass. Vol. 1, No. 4, Autumn 1982.
Tyner, Judith. “A World of Their Own, James Wilson and the First American Globe.” Mercator’s World. January/February 1999.
Yonge, Ena L. A Catalogue of Early Globes, Library Series No. 6. American Geographical Society, 1968. p. 69 -70.