History of flat earth theory: Orlando Ferguson's map of the flat earth.

A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map

A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Sept. 30 2015 1:32 PM

A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map

This map, published by South Dakotan Orlando Ferguson in 1893, offers a unique vision of the Earth as a concave field, with a round convex area in the middle. Surrounded by Bible passages arguing against the idea of a spherical Earth and embellished with a small illustration of men grasping desperately onto a spinning globe, the map begs its viewers to order Ferguson's book on "this Square and Stationary Earth," which "knocks the globe theory clean out." 

Historian Christine Garwood writes that the idea that people in the medieval period believed in a flat Earth before Columbus roundly disabused the world of that notion is reductive. Some medieval thinkers realized the truth, and people have persisted in believing in a flat Earth far past the time of Columbus. "Flat-earth belief has a chronology far stranger than all the inventions," she writes. The idea's resurgence in the 19th century is part of that strangeness. 

In the 19th-century United States, pamphleteers and authors of varying levels of credibility debated the flat-Earth theory vigorously. In an issue of the journal Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, published in 1896, the editors included Ferguson's book in a list of other recent titles questioning the dominant scientific perspective on the nature of the globe. Some of these: Eclectic or Cosmo-Enspheric Astronomy: The firmament a hollow sphere, and we live inside of it (Ulysses G. Morrow, 1894); One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is Not a Globe (William Carpenter, 1885); and Terra Firma. The Earth Does Not Move. Is not a Globe (W.M. Herd, 1890). 

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Ferguson's map may have had limited reach, judging by the small number of copies that have survived. Former North Dakota state Sen. Don Homuth donated this copy of the map, one of two known examples, to the Library of Congress in 2011. Homuth got his from his former history teacher, in Fargo, North Dakota; the teacher, in turn, had received it from his grandfather, who lived in Ferguson's hometown of Hot Springs, South Dakota. 

Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version, or visit the map's page in the Library of Congress' digital collections. 

FergusonMap

Library of Congress