The History of Hubbard Scientific

The Map Shop is proud to carry on the legacy of Hubbard Scientific maps, which started over 60 years ago by Tom Hubbard.

Hubbard Scientific Is Born

If you have ever put your hands on a 3D Raised Relief map at some point over the last half century you may have noticed the brand “Hubbard Scientific” stamped on the bottom of the map. Hubbard Scientific is the company that pioneered the first commercially available raised relief maps. The man responsible for getting them under your fingertips was Tom Hubbard.

In the early 1960’s Tom Hubbard was in Chicago, IL working in the product development department at Rand McNally when the company expressed an interest in expanding into astronomy related products. Hubbard had the creative knack and technical ability, so on the weekends he began building celestial globes in his basement – then sold his globes to Rand McNally.

The globes were a hit, but Hubbard couldn’t keep up with orders, so he quit his job at Rand and turned his celestial side hustle into a fulltime job. By the mid 1960’s Hubbard realized there was a larger market opportunity for his products, so he took the big swing. Hubbard bought an abandoned school, turned it into his first factory and started selling directly to the public. Hubbard Scientific was born.

Good Feels - Making Raised Relief Maps

Hubbard Scientific continued to add new products to its catalog and expanded their production to a larger factory located in Northbrook, Illinois. 

As the story goes, the United States Department of Defense approached Hubbard to take over the manufacturing of their USGS raised relief maps, a job normally completed by their internal mapping agency. Hubbard jumped at the chance. He learned the process and took over production. He paid the DoD royalties in exchange for the equipment, original molds, and the privilege to make raised relief maps. 

After a few years the defense mapping agency decided to get out of the raised relief map business entirely, so Hubbard bought the tooling and equipment and continued manufacturing.

The Chippewa Falls Factory

Hubbard Scientific was later sold to Dave Hancock, who moved the factory to Chippewa Falls, WI in 1976 where it operated for over 40 years.

The Chippewa factory was housed within a brown corrugated metal structure just off the main strip in Chippewa. Yes, there’s a main strip in Chippewa! There were a few small offices behind the entrance, then the building opened a large shop floor, filled with machinery and raw materials. Beyond the shop floor were rows of warehouse racking that carried hundreds of map molds.

Paul Taylor began working at Hubbard Scientific in 1976 at the Hubbard facility in Chippewa Falls. He worked under nine different plant managers during his time and eventually became the plant manager himself in 2012. Over the years, he learned everything there was to know about the raised relief map making process. From the specialty inks needed on the vinyl substrate, to carving and pouring molds, to the art and science of forming a map, Paul was the foremost expert in raised relief map making in the world.

Raised Relief Heads South

When the Map Shop first opened its doors in 1991 as a retail map store, they began selling Hubbard Scientific maps to their customers. This continued for decades until they received an email in mid 2019 stating that Hubbard’s now-parent company, NASCO, decided to cease operations at Hubbard Scientific. This was troubling because Hubbard was essentially the only company making the maps that Map Shop customers have loved over the years.

The Map Shop placed a large order from Hubbard, thinking it would be their last chance to sell the maps. Map Shop owner, Tony Rodono, also began making calls to figure out what was going to be done with the collection of molds that produced so many maps over the years. He learned the molds were destined for the dumpster, a fate that the team at the Map Shop felt was tragic and unacceptable.

Rodono hopped on a flight between snowstorms to Chippewa Falls where he met Paul Taylor in a diner a few blocks from the factory. It was here that Rodono learned of Taylor’s 34-year career at Hubbard, along with much of the history found on this page

The two decided that the Hubbard Scientific story wasn’t over and Rodono purchased the molds and loaded pallets of material on a truck headed back to Charlotte, NC.

The flagship location of the Map Shop sat at the corner of Kings and Morehead, it was perfect for a showroom, but it wasn’t big enough to house the equipment required for raised relief production. Tony decided the Map Shop needed to  move to a larger facility.  They found their new home in the South End area of Charlotte, and raised relief manufacturing began in early 2020. 

The learning curve was steep, but after much trial by error, Map Shop employee Danny Seckel was able to get the Map Shop’s raised relief manufacturing of Hubbard Scientific maps into modern production.

The Map Shop then purchased additional equipment that would allow them to make new molds in-house, a trade that even Hubbard outsourced. The Map Shop now has the in-house capability to wrangle the elevation data, carve molds, complete the cartography, print and form raised relief maps. Since 2020, the Map Shop has been able to continue the tradition of American raised relief manufacturing and have even successfully brought back discontinued Hubbard Scientific maps that were previously lost to mold damage or lost map art.

With new, up-to-date, high-quality 3D maps with high design, the Map Shop is excited to introduce the world to its newest line of raised relief maps. This latest evolution of Hubbard Scientific elevates the map game by creating unique interactive maps that turn geographic data into 3-D topography you can actually feel. 

These tactile maps are educational, aesthetic, and a joy to touch. Hubbard Scientific maps provide an understanding of the world that simply isn’t possible with flat maps. Raised relief maps are maps that literally make you feel something!  

Want to be a part of Hubbard Scientific’s next chapter? Check out our Raised Relief maps HERE.

Click HERE to learn more about what raised relief maps are and why they are awesome!