The George F. Cram Company, Inc. History

301 South LaSalle Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46201

Telephone: (317) 635-5564
Toll Free: 800-227-4199
Fax: (317) 687-2845

Private Company
Incorporated: 1921
Employees: 90
Sales: $19.3 million (2000)
NAIC: 511199 All Other Publishers

Company Perspectives:

While the George F. Cram Company is over 130 years old, we are still committed to develop a new and innovative product line while maintaining and surpassing quality standards.

Key Dates:

Company is founded as Blanchard & Cram in Evanston, Illinois.
Firm becomes George F. Cram Company with George as sole owner; company moves to Chicago.
Great Chicago fire destroys the business; company is re-established as Cram Map Depot.
Edward Peterson buy the company and merges it with his National Map Company of Indianapolis.
After Cram's death, Peterson changes the company name to The George F. Cram Company.
Cram begins manufacturing globes.
Loren B. Douthit begins employment with Cram.
Douthit becomes president and majority shareholder of the company.
Douthit retires and his sons William and John assume leadership of Cram.
Cram acquires American Geographic, Visual Craft, and Starlight Manufacturing.
Company purchases Southwind Publications and in-troduces the first Vacuum-Formed Illuminated Globe.
Company earns Export Achievement Certificate from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Company History:

Indianapolis-based The George F. Cram Company, Inc. is one of the nation's leading publishers and manufacturers of maps, atlases, globes, and related commercial and educational supplies. Its line of products include globes designed as gifts, world and decorator globes for home and office, home educator maps and programs, educational globes and maps, cultural and historical maps, state maps, curriculum material for the classroom, and social studies materials, including CDs, videos, and atlases. The company has been primarily owned and directed by the Douthit family since 1966, when family patriarch Loren B. Douthit began directing its fortunes as company president and majority stockholder. William L. Douthit took over Cram's reins when Loren Douthit died in 1996.

1867-1920: Evolution of a Map and Atlas Publisher

The George F. Cram Company traces its ancestry back to 1867, when a merchant named Rufus Blanchard, originally from Massachusetts, took his nephew George F. Cram into business with him in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago. Prior to that, back East, Blanchard had prospered through the sale of globes, maps, and books, but after the Civil War had moved to the Midwest. He brought Cram into the trade as a partner.

Cram, who was born on May 20, 1842, was fairly young at the time. He had served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and, reportedly, had a role as a cartographer for General Ulysses S. Grant. He also wrote several letters while serving under General William T. Sherman and participating in that military commander's celebrated "march to the sea." Years later, Cram's biography and letters would command enough historical interest to find their way into print.

The company of the uncle and nephew, which sold maps and atlases, was named Blanchard & Cram. However, in 1869, Cram took full control of the firm, renamed it George F. Cram, and moved it to Chicago, where, initially, it was a supply house for traveling book salesmen. The great Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed that business, however, and when Cram re-established the company as the Cram Map Depot, he reverted to producing and selling maps and atlases, which he had been doing in his partnership with Blanchard.

By 1875, the Cram Map Depot had begun publishing a wide range of atlases, including its Atlas of the World series. It was a series that, with several modifications and revisions, would remain in print for over 70 years. It was also the core business of the company right through World War I and the 1920s.

1921-65: Merging to Become a Major Globe Manufacturer

In 1921, Cram, at 79, sold the company to E.A. Peterson, who merged it with his own business, the National Map Company. National had previously been Scarborough Company and was originally established in Boston in 1882, but when it merged with Cram, the business moved to East Georgia Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1928, the year in which George F. Cram died, Peterson changed the firm's name to The George F. Cram Company.

It was not until the early 1930s that Cram began making globes, what would become one of the company's core products. These were made for both the home and school markets and came in a range of sizes from 8" to 16" in diameter. The product line included Cram's Universal Terrestrial Globes, political globes featuring a choice of sizes and different mountings. The company also produced a series dubbed Cram's Unrivaled Terrestrial Globes, as well as lighted globes.

In 1936, Loren B. Douthit began his long career with the company, initially working as school sales field manager. Over the next several years he rose through the business, becoming president and majority shareholder in 1966.

In 1940, Cram copyrighted and produced its Self-Revising Globe. With the world at war, the company realized that the restoration of peace would bring geopolitical changes, so it began selling globes with the guaranty that it would supply new map sections for globe owners who, following simple instructions, could update their globes.

Cram introduced one of its best-selling globes, the Tuffy Globe, in 1958. Cram manufactured the globes to hold up under reasonable wear, hence the suggestive name. The Tuffy line would prove very popular. It would also evolve through several versions and eventually carry a ten-year guarantee against the hazards of normal use, even by rambunctious children. The line would also reflect changing techniques in globe making. Models still in production in the next century were vacuum formed and injection molded, and thereafter marketed with the promise that they would not chip, dent, or peel.

1966-89: New Leadership and a Period of Vigorous Growth

In 1966, ownership of the company again changed hands when Loren B. Douthit and other family members bought a controlling interest in the business. Loren became president, and two years later, in 1968, he moved the company to South La Salle Street in Indianapolis, where it would remain into the next century. At about the same time, Douthit expanded the company's educational division, which produced not just globes and maps but also learning programs.

Cram faced difficult times, however, in the late 1960s and 1970s. The educational market started to dry up when geography lost its appeal to students and its status as a core subject in many school curricula slipped. The Soviet Union's successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 brought in its wake a new focus on math and science and, by the 1960s, schools, with their wide-swinging educational pendula, were soon turning out Johnnys who not only could not read or write but who could not locate New York on unmarked world maps, never mind London, Tokyo, Rome, or Rio de Janeiro.

William and John Douthit, Loren's two sons, assumed control of the day-to-day operations of the company when their father retired in July 1978, though Loren remained the titular head of the business as its board chairman. Under their leadership, Cram entered a period of fairly vigorous growth. Also, by the late 1980s, Cram's business market had undergone a major though gradual shift that had started in the 1960s. In 1963, it was selling more than 85 percent of its products to schools, and though that market remained central in the company's expansion, by 1989 commercial sales accounted for almost half of the company's business. In fact, the 1980s were strong growth years for the firm.

One good piece of luck came in 1982, when Target, then a 392-store chain of Dayton Hudson Corporation of Minneapolis, Minnesota, set out to find some new, low-priced Christmas items. Although Cram had been trying to sell items to Target, it was not pursuing that chain's business very vigorously. Neither were its competitors, however. In fact, one of them, Replogle Globes, Inc. of Chicago, was not even trying. The result was, to the company's surprise, that Target placed an order for over 25,000 globes with Cram, a giant order by the company's standards at the time. To fill it, Cram took a considerable risk. Douthit more than doubled his production staff, and even then had to work them many overtime hours to get the job done.

The result was a healthy growth-run by Cram. Its total business tripled between 1983 and 1989, and it enjoyed a particularly strong year in 1988, when sales rose by nearly 30 percent over the previous year. The company also left behind a rather stodgy reputation. Its customers helped encourage it to employ a more modern look, using, for example, bolder colors on its globes and more attractive packaging. The changes made Cram more competitive with Replogle and helped gain it a larger market share. Also, Cram was helped when, in 1987, Rand McNally completely exited the globe-making business. Between 1983 and 1989, Cram's production of globes increased five-fold, reaching close to 500,000 units per year. By that time, its globes were picked up for sale by several large retailers, including Venture, Child World, and Ames. As a result, retail store sales reached about 45 percent of the company's business.

Despite the tilting in its market axis towards increased commercial sales, the company's educational sales soared upward in the same period. One business boon was the 1988 introduction of a major new product: a primary map that blended activity and landscape panels. Cram experienced an enviable miscalculation when an anticipated 18-month supply of the maps sold out long before more were scheduled for printing. By 1988, Cram had also undertaken expansion through the acquisition of other companies. In January of that year it purchased American Geographic, a maker of large-scale state maps and specialty products; before buying that Michigan-based firm Cram had acquired two other companies: Visual Craft, an Illinois manufacturer of overhead transparencies; and Starlight Manufacturing, a metal spinning and stamping company located in Indianapolis.

1990 and Beyond: Expansion

Expansion continued into the 1990s, starting in 1991, when the company acquired Southwinds Publication. Southwinds, located in Florida, was a publisher of desk map programs. In the following year, Cram also purchased Rath Globe.

With the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1992, updating world maps and globes became a priority project for cartographers. Cram quickly produced a color globe, reputedly the first to depict the 15 countries once more independent of the Soviet hegemony.

Cram's guiding genius since the 1960s, Loren Douthit, died in March 1996. William L. Douthit, his son, then became the company's CEO and chairman. The following June, in a cooperative venture with Berkeley, California-based Eureka Cartography, Cram produced the first digital vacuum-formed globe for Explore Technology. Vacuum-formed, illuminated globes had first appeared on the scene in 1991, when World Book, Inc. introduced them to the market.

In the following year, 1997, the company acquired the personal letters of George F. Cram, written to the founder's mother and uncles during the Civil War. Three years later, in a collection edited by Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt, the letters were issued by the Northern Illinois University Press. That year, the company celebrated its 130th anniversary. It also introduced its all-new and original Explorer political maps of the world and the United States for the educational market. Once again, too, it partnered with Eureka Cartography, this time to produce and market the first fiberglass globes.

Starting in the 1990s and expanding in the new century, Cram tapped into foreign markets for an increasing percentage of its sales. By 2002, it was printing globes in English, Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese, and it was exporting them to almost 25 countries. The company's success in expanding into global markets earned the recognition of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which in May 2002 awarded the company with an Export Achievement Certificate. The company was the first Indiana firm to received the honor. Cram had begun working with the U.S. Commercial Service, an agency of the Department of Commerce, in 2001, and as a result had entered nine markets that generated sales of $350,000. Although foreign sales only accounted for about 12 percent of the company's revenue, Cram's prospects for increasing global sales over the next several years looked very good.

Principal Competitors: 1-World Globes; Herff Jones, Inc.; National Geographic Society Inc.; Rand McNally Company; Replogle Globes; The World of Maps, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Cram, George F., Soldiering with Sherman: Civil War letters of George F. Cram, edited by Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt, DeKalb.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000.
  • Davis, Andrea M., "Global Focus Pays Off for Cram," Indiana Business Journal, May 20, 2002, p.1.
  • Harris, John, "Global Warfare," Forbes, October 16, 1989, p. 120.
  • Kronemyer, Bob, "Going Global," Indiana Business Magazine, October 2000, p. 17.
  • Stewart, William B., "The World According to Cram," Indiana Business Magazine, September 1989, p. 24.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 55. St. James Press, 2003.