Globe cartographer LeRoy M. Tolman dies at 84; introduced the world to millions

Having his name on millions of globes sold throughout the world brought LeRoy M. Tolman pride of ownership and a deep sense of responsibility.

It also meant most complaints came directly to him.

The longtime chief cartographer for Replogle Globes -- the world's largest globe manufacturer -- would hear from civic leaders worldwide upset that their city didn't appear on his work. Lithuanians complained that they were shown as a Soviet state before the U.S.S.R. collapsed, and Argentines didn't like the Falkland Islands colored pink like Britain.

In the 1980s, the Japanese wanted their atlases and globes to show that the northerly Kuril Islands belonged to them and not the nearby Soviet Union. And India wanted the disputed Kashmir region entirely within its borders, even though a good portion was in Pakistan's control.

"We'll have to make damn sure we don't send any of those globes to Pakistan," Tolman told the Wall Street Journal in 1986. "The customer's not always right. But he's always a customer."

Tolman, 84, who retired from Replogle in 1998 after 44 years, died Sept. 12 near his home outside Chicago.

"I worked with LeRoy a little over four years, and he used to tell me, 'This might not pay a lot of money, but I guarantee it's the most unique job you'll ever have,' " recalled former colleague Kevin Dzurny, now chief cartographer at Replogle. "And he was right. It's also one of the most interesting."

Tolman, who grew up in Chicago, worked closely with the CIA and U.S. and foreign government agencies and relied on his own expertise to keep the globes up to date as the company's factory churned them out in as many as 10 languages, ranging from the size of a softball to one that was 32 inches in diameter and sold for thousands of dollars.

"I don't know how he did it for so many years," said his wife, Vernadene. "He drew everything by hand, using so much detail, and looking at it all through his big, thick glasses. After he retired, it's a wonder he had any eyesight left at all."

The company was founded in 1930 when Luther Irvin Replogle, a school supplies distributor who later became U.S. ambassador to Iceland, started making globes in his Chicago basement. Most were sold to schools, but he thought people should have globes in their homes too.

Within a few months, Replogle opened a small factory on South Franklin Street and hired one worker. Business started to take off when Marshall Field & Co. ordered 100,000 globes in 1933 to be sold in conjunction with the Century of Progress Exposition.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Americans flocked to stores to buy globes to find the often exotic locations of World War II in the Pacific theater.

A graduate of Kelvyn Park High School on the Northwest side of Chicago, Tolman’s career at Replogler began with an apprenticeship in the mid-1950s under Gustave Brueckmann, the company's original cartographer.

"He loved his job," his wife said. "He'd been making maps since he was a little boy, but being able to get paid for it made it all the better."

Tolman was willing to customize his globes somewhat off of the U.S. State Department's rulings on boundaries and nomenclature, but there was one compromise he was simply unwilling to make: to the flat-earthers.

"They gave up on converting me," he told the Wall Street Journal in 1986. "Until we see proof to the contrary, we'll continue to make round globes."

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Joan Giangrasse Kates writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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