DeLorme Publishing Company, Inc. History

Two DeLorme Drive
Yarmouth, Maine 04096

Telephone: (207) 846-7000
Fax: (207) 846-7071

Private Company
Incorporated: 1976
Employees: 220
Sales: $35 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 511210 Software Publishers; 511140 Database and Directory Publishers; 443120 Computer and Software Stores; 451211 Book Stores; 511130 Book Publishers

Company Perspectives:

At the forefront of the high-tech mapping industry, DeLorme is a leading publisher and producer of mapping software, GPS hardware, wireless and Internet mapping applications, as well as paper maps and atlases. Winning awards year after year, our products reflect the efforts of our dynamic, innovative, and talented workforce. We are headquartered in Yarmouth, Maine, just 15 miles north of Portland and 130 miles north of Boston. In our lobby, Eartha, a 3-story, 41-foot diameter rotating globe represents our vision to make the world and all its natural wonders immediately accessible to people of diverse backgrounds.

Key Dates:

DeLorme is founded by David DeLorme; company publishes The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, the first in the Atlas and Gazetteer series.
Company creates first compact disc of world atlas.
DeLorme produces the first consumer CD-ROM street atlas called Street Atlas USA.
Company opens new headquarters in Yarmouth, Maine; company falls behind Rand McNally to hold second place in computer mapping software market.
Eartha, the world's largest rotating and revolving globe, is unveiled at DeLorme headquarters, and company starts Eartha Education Alliance to educate children about the importance of geography.

Company History:

DeLorme Publishing Company, Inc. is a leading publisher of mapping software and paper maps and atlases for consumers and businesses. Known for producing detailed, color topographic maps, DeLorme publishes a paper map for each of the United States in the best-selling Atlas and Gazetteer series. DeLorme's Street Atlas USA, the first CD-ROM of detailed street maps offering complete coverage of the United States when it was released in 1991, continues to be a best-selling software product. Additional CD-ROM programs published by DeLorme include 3-D TopoQuads, XMap Business, Eartha Global Explorer, and DeLorme Topo USA. DeLorme is also a leader in Global Positioning System (GPS) software with a complete product line that is compatible with Earthmate, DeLorme's GPS receiver. DeLorme's headquarters in Yarmouth, Maine, houses Eartha, the largest rotating and revolving globe in the world.

1970s Entrepreneurial Roots

An enterprise that eventually would take on global scope began with one man at his kitchen table. According to company anecdote, David DeLorme, a Maine native and outdoorsman, was on a fishing trip at Moosehead Lake in the 1970s when he came to a fork in the road where his map indicated he should go straight. He realized then that he could make a better map, and set about to do so. With a background in publishing as the editor of a compendium of Maine facts and tidbits called The Maine Catalog, DeLorme began work on piecing together a fully detailed map of the state of Maine. Gathering data from state highway, county, and town maps as well as federal surveys, DeLorme created a state map and had 10,000 copies printed in a large-format book. DeLorme himself then went town to town selling The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer out of his car. The mapbooks quickly caught on with hunters, fishermen, hikers, canoeists, campers, and salespeople because the maps detailed virtually every road, trail, river, stream, and body of water in the state. The maps initially featured and continue to include a gazetteer section that highlights a variety of sites to see and activities to do, including hiking and bicycle trails, canoeing and kayaking trips, and museum and historic sites.

By the early 1980s, DeLorme had a staff of eight employees who continued to revise the initial Maine Atlas and Gazetteer as well as create new maps. DeLorme and his staff began work on the most extensive and detailed map of Maine in an intermediate scale that allowed for a half-inch to equal a mile. This atlas was divided into 70 quadrangles depicting the longitudinal and latitudinal divisions into separate boxes that if pieced together would reach a height of 14 feet and a width of nine feet. To create this comprehensive detail, DeLorme and his staff utilized a variety of sources, ranging from pirated paper company maps to satellite photographs from NASA. In the end, the map took three years to plan and cost $100,000 to produce. DeLorme anticipated that the payoff for expending such resources could be great. At that time, he saw that the intermediate scale map could be used as a base upon which to expand future projects and ultimately place the map overlays into computer format that could be easily updated.

Mid-1980s Growth

The company had 75 employees by 1986 and had published atlases of other New England states, including New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York. By 1988, the company had grown to over 100 employees in an overcrowded Freeport office and opened a distribution center in Portland. DeLorme published atlas and gazetteers for 11 states and had produced the 13th edition of the Maine Atlas. By the late 1980s, DeLorme sales had grown at least 50 percent since 1976, and, in 1987, the company posted a 200-percent sales growth, due in part to the growing popularity of its paper maps, but largely due to the addition of DeLorme Mapping Systems, a division devoted to computerized mapping technology. While paper maps constituted two-thirds of the company's business, sales were quickly shifting toward the computer technology market.

As DeLorme began to catalog and store data from paper maps onto computer databases, he quickly realized that there was no software program available to suit the needs of mapping. He hired several computer programmers and worked with them to develop the software and systems for mapping data. The task of computerizing data became the company's focus for three years, stalling further development and sales for other projects. Finally, in 1987, DeLorme produced a CD containing an atlas of the whole world. Areas of North America and Europe were visualized in a scale of ten miles to the inch, while other parts of the world were magnified at 20 miles to the inch. Other features included the ability to zoom out to satellite photo images of the world magnified at 420 feet to the inch. This initial software map provided the longitude and latitude for any global location within four decimal points.

As a result of the astounding detail of DeLorme's computer mapping technology, the company caught the eye of government officials. In the late 1980s, the company began work with defense contractors in Washington, D.C., providing expertise on government projects. However, an increasing number of customers who contracted with DeLorme with anywhere from $10,000 to $1 million were Fortune 500 companies who used DeLorme's XMap technology to integrate such information as site assessment into applications useful for their own industry. By 1989, DeLorme employed 15 computer programmers and company goals focused on continuing to attract technical personnel to increase their technology products.

The 1990s: Growing Gains and Pains

The push toward computer mapping technology brought DeLorme to the forefront in that market. In 1991 the company released Street Atlas USA, a CD-ROM detailing street maps across the entire United States. Upon its release, Street Atlas USA quickly became the top-selling mapping software program in the United States. Updated versions of that flagship program include more than four million sites of interest and businesses. Additionally, the XMap software suite, first introduced in the late 1980s, found a successful niche in the business sector and continued to help grow the company's business market.

By the mid-1990s DeLorme had established itself as the leading company in computer mapping software. In 1995 DeLorme held 44 percent of the market share, beating out such powerhouse firms as Rand McNally with 25 percent and Microsoft with 17.5 percent. In that same year, DeLorme partnered with the American Automobile Association (AAA) to produce AAA Map 'n Go, a CD-ROM travel planner that combined the extensive mapping data of DeLorme with AAA's huge database of lodgings, restaurants, and tourist attractions. In the late 1980s when the first network of global positioning satellites were placed in orbit, DeLorme was anticipating the need for the technology to link with the Global Positioning Satellite System (GPS). In 1996, DeLorme released the DeLorme GPS receiver, its initial hardware product created to integrate with DeLorme GPS software. Later, in 1998, the company released the Earthmate GPS receiver, which connected laptop and handheld computers to enable real-time navigation.

The company, dependent on government contracts in the 1980s, had by the mid-1990s shifted to a predominantly consumer and business oriented market. However, just two years after holding the premier market spot in computer mapping software, DeLorme slipped to a 28 percent share in 1997 behind the new market leader Rand McNally with 36 percent of the market. Company executives attributed the loss to increased competition in mapping software, the difficult retail environment, and a need for the company to develop new products more rapidly.

The company experienced some turbulent times in the 1990s. In 1995, DeLorme experienced an exodus of 53 employees out of a staff of 180 that some attribute to the unpredictable leadership of founder David DeLorme. DeLorme allegedly initiated a memo that was attributed to four top-level managers that notified employees they must reapply for their jobs or a newly created job. The four managers who were credited with the memo had received no warning the memo would be distributed, but then were placed in the position of mitigating damage control. David DeLorme maintained changes were necessary to secure a cutting edge spot in the rapidly shifting and competitive technical environment.

Some employees also questioned the ethical practices of the company. According to a report in the Maine Times, in 1996 Robert Crowder, a sales coordinator for DeLorme from 1990 to 1995, was "fired for expressing concern that company policies involved cheating the government." Crowder contended that DeLorme encouraged a practice of appropriating data from government sources and then using the data for DeLorme's commercial purposes. In 1999 the company was fined $780,000 after admitting in a plea agreement that the company claimed false ownership of proprietary government data of the Persian Gulf, Korea, and the former Soviet Union DeLorme had accessed between 1987 and 1991. According to a Portland Press Herald report, DeLorme had used the data for mapping materials sold to the Department of Defense but then claimed owner- ship on the information for subsequent CD-ROM products sold to other government agencies. While DeLorme admitted to the false claims, the company maintained that mistakes in attribution of ownership were unintentional.

In 1997 DeLorme relocated its company headquarters to Yarmouth in a $6 million, 100,000-square-foot building. In July 1998, the company unveiled Eartha, the biggest rotating and revolving globe in the world. Housed in the three-story glass atrium of the new company headquarters, Eartha was designed by David DeLorme and built by members of the DeLorme staff.

The impressive globe has a diameter of over 41 feet and a circumference of almost 130 feet. It took the staff over a year to compile the mapping data from satellite imagery, shaded relief, ocean-depth data, and road network and urban area information. The database was nearly 140 gigabytes, or 214 CD-ROMs. The surface of Eartha was comprised of 792 map sections mounted on panels that could be removed and updated. With an axis of 23.5 degrees, Eartha's rotation matched that of the Earth. The scale of Eartha was 1:1,000,000 of the actual Earth, which made one inch on Eartha equal to almost 16 miles on Earth. In 1999, Eartha was declared the "World's Largest Globe" by the Guinness Book of World Records. Listed among top tourist attractions in New England, Eartha was created to inspire and educate. David DeLorme stated, "Eartha is the largest image of Earth ever created. It will help us make even better maps and will help others envision how we on Earth are all connected. Eartha will instill a sense of wonder in people when they first see it and we hope they walk away from it with a better appreciation and knowledge of the world around them." To further its educational commitment, DeLorme launched the Eartha Education Alliance non-profit program in 1998. Available for groups of children from third to eighth grade, the program sought to offer hands-on experience to inspire and educate children about world and local geography.

Mapping a New Strategy for the 21st Century

Financial woes, prompted in part by economic recession, challenged the company in the late 1990s. DeLorme asked workers to take a two-week furlough in late December 2001. In early January 2002, the company laid off 52 of its 200 employees. The layoffs were part of the company's plan to restructure its workforce and focus on new product lines. Gordon Pow, DeLorme's president and chief operating officer, cited a drop from $30.2 million in net sales in November 2000 to $26.2 million in net sales in November 2001 as the prime reason for the "agonizing" cuts, which were targeted at employees in consumer products sales, marketing, and other functions. Hoping to revitalize sales, the company shifted from a consumer products market to focus on information systems for scientific and professional markets. At the beginning of 2002 DeLorme remained focused on its goal of leading the market in geographical satellite and aerial imagery.

Principal Competitors: Rand McNally & Co.; AAA;, Inc.; Microsoft Corporation.

Further Reading:

  • Canfield, Clarke, "DeLorme Fined for Lying to U.S.," Portland Press Herald, July 28, 1999, pp. 1A, 8A.
  • Clark, Jeff, "The Whole World in His Hand," Down East, September 1988, pp. 72-74; 88-89.
  • "DeLorme Publishing Co.," Industry Standard, October 22, 2002.
  • Halper, Evan, "Success at a Price," Maine Times, January 25, 1996, pp. 1-5.
  • Haskell, Meg, "U.S. Catches up to DeLorme; Mapmaker Fined $780,000," Maine Times, August 5, 1999, p. 9.
  • Liljeholm, Lyn, "Catalog Chronicles Maine Tidbits," Portland Evening Express, May 10, 1973, pp. 1, 12.
  • Long, Alan, "DeLorme Goes Global," Mainebiz, February 1998, pp. 26, 28.
  • Murphy, Edward D., "DeLorme Freezes Salaries, Seeks New Ways to Market," Portland Press Herald, February 3, 1998, pp. 1C, 7C.
  • ------, "Most at DeLorme Told to Take Time off to Cut Costs," Portland Press Herald, December 4, 2001, p. 1C.
  • Smith, Jeff, "Charting New Territory," Portland Press Herald, July 4, 1989, pp. 9, 12.
  • ------, "Finding His Way," Portland Press Herald, November 14, 1995, pp. 1C, 7C.
  • Turkel, Tux, "DeLorme Lays off 52, Maps out New Strategy," Portland Press Herald, January 8, 2002, pp. 1A, 7A.
  • ------, "Maine's Master of Maps," Maine Sunday Telegram, August 30, 1981, pp. 13A-14A.
  • Vietze, Andrew, "A Whole New World," Down East, August 1998, pp. 84-85.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 53. St. James Press, 2003.