HILLSIDE, Ill. — Suburban Hillside is home the global leader in manufacturing globes. Each year, Replogle Globes makes hundreds of thousands of models of planet Earth, some are less than $10, others cost as much as $13,950.
“We make globes,” Joe Wright, the company’s CEO said. “Geographic globes of the world. Planetary globes. Some constellation globes, but basically, we bring the world to people’s homes.”
Luther Replogle was a school supplies salesman who saw potential in globes. He founded the company in 1930 and started producing hand-made globes with his wife out of their apartment.
In 1933, Marshall Field and Company ordered 100,000 globes to sell as souvenirs at the World’s Fair “The Century of Progress” in Chicago.
When President Franklin Roosevelt would address the nation in his “fireside chats” on the radio during World War II, he would encourage families to have maps and globes nearby to understand the geography of the conflict.
The items became fixtures in schools and homes, and the company saw increasing success.
Today it’s the world’s largest manufacturer of globes – a small business with 41 employees.
“This is like, my dream job,” Wright said. “From the beginning our company has been doing this. It was kind of a different, innovative thing when we started doing it in 1930, globes were sold almost exclusively to schools and libraries – and some government offices. What we’ve done is, our founder had the idea of selling globes to just regular people.”
Roplogle’s products are printed in nearly two dozen languages, and used in classrooms, homes, and the offices of diplomats and international leaders.
Chief cartographer Kevin Dzurny has worked for Replogle for nearly three decades. He’s only the fourth cartographer in the company’s 93-year history. “Instead of looking on your phone, you can take a globe and hold it in your hand, and it’s a physical 3-D hard, it’s amazing. It’s just beautiful,” Dzurny said.
He’s responsible for ensuring the coastlines, political borders, location names, and even the topography are accurate representations of reality. “When you put a political border on a map, you want to make sure it’s accurate,” Dzurny because you will be called out if it’s inaccurate.”
Using a digital program, he takes a flat map of the world and makes it round. His computer program helps reconfiguring the map into sections that will be sliced and fit perfectly onto the curved spherical surface with no distortion – those sections are called gores. “This is one gore,” he said holding a slice of paper with a sliver of the printed globe. “This is a hand-covered map, 32-inch. This is printed on hand-covered paper, so what I’m going to show you on the computer is how we – a simplified version of how we created this.”
Replogle makes three types of globes –hand covered, plastic, and paper. “The paper globe is 85 percent of the market of Replogle Globes,” said Mark Hoddenbach, the vice president of manufacturing.
There is a multi-step process involving more than ten people that is necessary to produce a single globe, until they eventually roll down the assembly line where they’re hammered into stands, packed, and eventually shipped.
The facility includes a massive warehouse 200 feet deep and 38 feet high where completed globes and raw materials are stored.
Meantime in a facility about five minutes away in Broadview, the company’s wood shop is buzzing.
“Most people use an MDF (a high-grade composite material) right now, we still use solid wood,” said Henryk Krasuski, Replogle’s wood division manager, who makes handcrafted solid wood stands for more expensive globes. He’s working on a stand that the company calls a “modified version of the famous Barrel Chair originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Replogle Globes changed hands a few times. It was eventually sold it to the educational product giant Herff Jones, which moved operations to Indianapolis. After roughly three years, Herff Jones decided to shut down Replogle, leading to perhaps the most extraordinary chapter in Replogle’s history – the employees taking control of the company they love.
“We said, hey, um, you don’t need to close this,” Wright said. “This company can make money. This company could be profitable, it could be very very successful, if it was handled just a little bit differently, and when I mentioned that to them, they were like, ‘why don’t you guys just buy it?’”
Six employees secured the financing and brought it back to the Chicago area. “A huge part of it was the workforce was here,” Wright said. “All of those people were still here. They all had this huge reservoir of knowledge and skills and we literally put back the dream team.”
For more information on the Diplomat Globe, click here.