James Wilson (globe maker)

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James Wilson

James Wilson (born March 15, 1763 in Londonderry , New Hampshire Colony , † March 26, 1855 in Bradford , Vermont ) was a farmer and the first manufacturer of globes in the United States .


Origin and vision

James Wilson was born the son of a farmer in New Hampshire. He worked on his father's farm and received instruction from a blacksmith, but otherwise had little formal education. He bought land in Francestown , New Hampshire and lived there until moving to Bradford, Vermont in 1796.

On a visit to Dartmouth College he saw the collection of European globes and there a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes. Inspired by these, he was determined to build globes himself. However, his knowledge of geography and astronomy was insufficient to create the globes. He was unable to study at Bradford Academy, so he sold parts of his farm. From this money he acquired the third edition, consisting of 18 volumes, the Encyclopædia Britannica , which was produced from 1788.

However, he also lacked knowledge of copperplate engraving . To achieve this, Wilson traveled to Boston and Newburyport. There he wanted to be taught by John Akin. Akin asked for $ 100 for classes, a sum Wilson did not own. He returned to Bradford without Akin's instruction and tried to engrave copper plates there without help . After a few unsuccessful attempts, he traveled to Connecticut and visited Amos Doolittle . From him he learned the basics of copperplate engraving.


Terrestrial globe by James Wilson from 1810

Back in Bradford, Wilson experimented with the engraving technique. He made a sphere out of solid wood, covered it with paper and drew the countries with ink and pen. This first sphere was the basis of his further experiments. He made his tools and aids himself. His training as a blacksmith helped him. Wilson worked on the first copper plate for almost a year. He had problems with the positions of the meridians, and he went to see Jedediah Morse , the leading geographer. He told him that the meridians should not be engraved on the same plate. Wilson returned to Bradford and started making new records. In 1810 he finally sold the first globe. On a book page, Wilson noted that he had sold a globe to Mr. Wellman on January 18, 1810. Further entries show that production of the globes was now gaining momentum, the next globe was sold to Judge Nathaniel Niles on January 25th, he sold a further 17 globes in January and 11 globes after January.


Three of his sons, David, John and Samuel, became interested in the manufacture of the globes and joined the father’s factory. This expanded, and with the help of an agent, Wilson sold his globes worldwide. The manufacture was relocated to Albany , New York , so that the globes could be better shipped. They traded under the name Wilson & Sons and produced a wide variety of globes for more than 25 years.

Wilson continued to live in Bradford. His son David left the factory, worked as a miniature painter in New York and died in 1827. The sons John and Samuel ran the factory in Albany until their death in 1833. Then Cyrus Lancaster took over the line. Lancaster had previously held a managerial position at the factory and later married Rebecca, Samuel's widow. James Wilson remained active. At the age of 83 he created a planetarium for Thetford Academy in Thetford, one of the oldest secondary schools in Vermont. He constructed a machine that represented the earth's rotation in the ecliptic . The sequence of the seasons and the position of the sun for each day of the year could be displayed. The planetarium was set in motion by a crank. The copper plate, on which the months in the course of the year, the days and the corresponding signs of the zodiac with the degrees were stamped, Wilson made himself.

His globes can now be found in the collections of important museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art , universities such as the Harvard University Map Collection and with private collectors. They achieve high prices at auctions.


James Wilson was married three times: first to Molly Highland from Londonderry, with her he had a son. Then with Sarah Donalson, with her he had ten children. After her death he married Agnes McDuffe from Bradford, with her he had three daughters. He died in Bradford on March 26, 1855, at the age of 92. His grave is in Bradford's Upper Plain Cemetery.

Web links

Commons : James Wilson (globe maker)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g James Wilson of Vermont, America's first globe maker by Leroy B. Kimball (pdf). Retrieved March 25, 2017
  2. a b The World at your elbow ; James Wilson of Vermont (pdf). Retrieved March 25, 2017
  3. James Wilson | Celestial Globe | American | The Met. In: metmuseum.org. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i. e. The Met Museum, accessed March 25, 2017 .