Born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Wilson farmed with his father and trained as a blacksmith, though he had little other formal education. He moved to Vermont in 1796, became interested in cartography, and taught himself map making. He invested in an Encyclopedia and taught himself engraving and map making with the intention of producing maps for schoolchildren.
When he visited Dartmouth College’s European globe collection, he was inspired by a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes. He left determined to create his own, and produced a heavy wooden sphere covered with ink drawings on paper. Though this first attempt was too heavy and took too long to produce for it to be commercially feasible, Wilson continued look for ways to improve his product. He sought out an expert in copper engraving and studied with Amos Doolittle in order to master the art of engraving.
By January of 1810, Wilson had sold “A New Terrestrial Globe, on Which the Facts & new Discoveries Are Laid Down from the Accurate Observations Made by Capts. Cook, Furneux, Phips, etc.” Wilson made globes for more than 50 years and experimented with different models of the sun and earth and, in this sense, took part in the great explorations of the time. Although Wilson was married three times, fathered ten children, and worked on the family farm, he was self-educated. Today Wilson is renowned not only for making the first globe in the United States but also, with the help of his sons, for producing globes which changed the way Americans and others viewed the world.
In 1813, he opened the first geographic globe factory in the US and sold his initial 13 inch globe for $50. The Wilson globes were widely successful, and Wilson expanded to production of sets of celestial and terrestrial globes in various sizes, materials and prices, including printed Papier-mâché, enabling them to be purchased inexpensively for use in schools and homes. Wilson increased his production to meet demand, and in partnership with his sons he opened a second factory in Albany, New York.
Photo and text via Wikipedia and Bennington Museum.