Luther Irvin Replogle (March 2, 1902 − July 3, 1981) was a businessman, diplomat, and philanthropist, and the founder of Replogle Globes which, during the mid-20th century, became the largest globe manufacturing business in the world. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Iceland from 1969 to 1972. He also established the Luther I. Replogle Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has distributed over $23 million since his death.
Rep, as he was known to everyone—family, friends and business associates alike―was born in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, the youngest in a family of four brothers and one sister. The family moved to Altoona, Pennsylvania when he was five years old, where his father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1920, Rep secured an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, though he departed after two and a half years to find a job. Rep always remained close to the Academy and his fellow cadets and later he was elected an honorary member of the class of 1924.
In late 1926 Rep met Elizabeth McIlvaine, a graduate of Wellesley College and a journalist. They married in 1927 and moved to Chicago where Rep worked as a salesman for the Weber-Costello company until the Depression. Without jobs, Rep and Elizabeth decided to establish their own company and founded Replogle Globes.
The first Replogle globe, 12 inches in diameter and selling for $25, was hand-made in the basement of their apartment building on Chicago’s North Side in 1930. The company’s opportunity came with the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair—A Century of Progress—when the great Chicago department store, Marshall Field’s, asked Replogle to create a souvenir globe for the Fair. Marshall Field’s sold 100,000 souvenir globes that year at $1.75 each. Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter in 1935. Tragically, she then died of pneumonia in 1937.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and America’s subsequent entry into World War II prompted great public interest in the geography of war events were taking place. To handle the increased demand for globes, Rep moved the business to larger premises and pioneered the mass production of globes with the introduction of steam presses to form the balls and an assembly line to complete the product. Also in 1941, Rep and his second wife, Mary Herron, adopted a baby girl. Rep sold his company in 1959 to Meredith Publishing, best known as publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and The Ladies Home Journal. While continuing as President and Chief Operating Officer, he led the company’s expansion into the European market in 1963 through a joint venture with Scan Globes of Copenhagen, Denmark.
In 1966, Rep set up a non-profit foundation to make donations and gifts to non-profit organizations. While he supported many cultural institutions, he also felt strongly about helping those people who in need. Rep believed that the best way to help people was to give them the knowledge and support to enable them to help themselves. More information on the history of his Foundation can be found in the folder: History of the Luther I. Replogle Foundation.
Rep decided to pursue his interest in foreign affairs and began serving in 1965 as a public member of the Foreign Service Officers’ promotion board. In this capacity, Rep traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa, visiting many American embassies abroad. He also became a member of the American Foreign Service Association.
President Richard M. Nixon appointed Rep as U.S. Ambassador to Iceland in 1969. It was an ideal post for him. He worked diligently to strengthen U.S. foreign policy and defense ties with this valuable NATO ally, supported development of the national air carrier, Icelandic Air, and took a lively interest in the people and history of the country. In 1971 he married Lorene W. Ingalls, who later died of cancer in 1978.
At the end of his Ambassadorial service in 1972, Rep presented a commemorative fountain to the City of Reykjavik. The Republic of Iceland awarded him its highest honor, The Grand Cross Star of the Order of the Falcon.
Upon his return to Chicago, Rep founded an annual award to recognize an employee of the State Department who had demonstrated innovative management techniques. Each November, the Department of State competitively selects a winner and the Luther I. Replogle Foundation presents the Luther I. Replogle Award for Management Improvement with an honorarium. The first award, presented to Theodore L. Eliot, Jr., Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Executive Secretary of the Department, exemplifies the type of activity that Rep was interested in supporting. Eliot had initiated reforms in the Executive Secretariate which led to the first computerized document management system that allowed the State Department to respond more quickly to the 20,000 documents addressed to its principle officers each year.
Replogle died in Chicago on July 3, 1981 at the age of 79 after a brief illness. He is buried in Peoria beside his first wife, Elizabeth McIlvaine, and his second wife, Mary Herron (1894-1969). The Luther I. Replogle Foundation, which he founded in 1966, supports a variety of charities that represent his interests in young people, education, mental well-being, and the Presbyterian Church.