Geodesy—the scientific study of the Earth's shape—has a rocky history. There's the whole flat-then-round thing. One turn-of-the-century theory declared our planet pear-shaped, with poles in the Pacific Ocean and the Sahara Desert. With the help of satellite technology, today's scientists describe the terrestrial shape as elliptical. Curious, then, that globes, since their first recorded appearance around 1492, have remained steadfastly spherical (barring Japanese studio Drill Design's boxy, 32-sided paper Geografia globe, which sits precisely tilted at the Earth's true axis of 23.4 degrees). Once a schoolhouse staple, globes now act as wanderlusty decor for both traditional and mod households. "More people buy our product for decoration than education," says Robert Mitchell, sales manager at Replogle Globes in Chicago. "Fifteen years ago, I would have told you the opposite." The year following the September 11 attacks saw some of the highest sales in company history. "People began to wonder about the globe," Mitchell says. "And we provide a clear depiction of the world."
A version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.