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Reconstructing Washington's Terrestrial Globe

President Washington ordered this globe from England shortly after being elected President of the United States in 1789. He specifically requested, "a terrestrial globe of the largest dimensions and of the most accurate and approved kind now in use."

Many years ago, the globe was displayed in Washington's study in the Mansion. However, it was admittedly difficult for visitors to get a good look. To protect the fragile piece from sunlight, much of the surface was covered with a woolen cover. Portions of the globe that were visible had darkened with age, so it was virtually impossible to appreciate the detail and artistry of the rare artifact.

For the long-term benefit of both the globe and visitors touring the estate, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association decided in 2005 to conduct a full fledged conservation of the piece, the most in­-depth treatment of the historical sphere in its 217-year history.

Learn more about the refurbished globe by visiting our e-museum.

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From the Collection: Terrestrial Floor Globe

The globe is among the few rare items that have remained at Mount Vernon since George Washington's lifetime, leaving the property only when conservation work has required it.

It was transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington III in 1860.

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An Interest in Cartography

As a lifelong surveyor and real estate investor, Washington was keenly interested in carto­graphy. Soon after becoming president, he wrote to his London agent, "to send me by the first vessel, which sails for New York, a terrestrial globe of the largest dimension and of the most accurate and approved kind now in use." 

The First President's Globe

Dudley Adams, a second generation globe maker, was selected for the job. It took several months to complete the project, and Washington received the globe and a bill for 27 pounds in the spring of 1790. After finishing his second term in office, Washington shipped the globe to Mount Vernon and gave it a place of prestige in his first­ floor study.

The words on the globe are primarily in Latin, although later additions were written in English. The voyages of Captain James Cook are tracked, and the explorer's death is recorded in Hawaii (shown as Owyhee) in 1779.

The Restoration Process

Because the globe was fashioned of multiple materials - the layers of paper, plaster, and papier-maché over a wooden frame, it has been susceptible to environmental conditions over the past two centuries. When T. K. McClintock of Somerville, Massachusetts, was enlisted in late 2005 to conserve the globe, he found a long list of problems:

  • The sphere was compromised by a major network of cracks in the plaster, and the paper on the surface was discolored.

  • At numerous seams, the paper had become torn, abraded, loose, and out of register.

  • Some sections of the original map (especially in central Asia) were missing entirely.

  • Surface grime and remnants of old varnish made portions of the map impossible to read.


Prior to conservation, the globe had warped out of shape, with numerous losses to the paper surface, which as discolored and was covered with layers of old varnish and surface grime. The many individual pieces of paper covering the sphere were carefully cleaned, flattened, and reattached (MVLA)

After his initial analysis of the globe, McClintock's first reaction was to continue the stabilization process by making relatively minor repairs. But following several lengthy discussions with Mount Vernon's collections staff, the decision was made to go forward with a far more extensive conservation. If successful, Washington's globe would look much more like it did when it first arrived in New York City in 1790.

To those unfamiliar with the advanced conservation techniques used by McClintock, the process was a bit unnerving. Using steam, he removed the entire paper surface from the sphere, placing sections of the map side by side on a large table. Wielding a small scalpel and a microscope, McClintock carefully cleaned and stabilized each section.

Meanwhile, the sphere was reshaped and repaired before being covered with Japanese paper applied with a wheat starch paste.

Although McClintock left some of the original inconsistencies in the globe "as is," he used watercolors to revive some of the pigments that defined different nations. Minor repairs were also made to the meridian ring and the mahogany stand.

When the refurbished globe was unveiled on October 27, 2005, it was the first time in more than a century that visitors were able to see the true details of George Washington's world.

Come see George Washington's globe in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center today. Entry to the museum is included with general admission.

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