Didier Robert de Vaugondy (1723-1786) was the son of the author of the celebrated Atlas Portatif Universel et Militaire, Gilles Robert Vaugondy (1688-1766), and the great grandson of one of the foremost French cartographers of the seventeenth century, Nicolas Sanson, the official geographer to the Royal Family. Both father and son worked from the Quai de l'Horloge in Paris, next to the Louvre, amid numerous other cartographers, globe-makers, mathematicians and instrument-makers, counting amongst their neighbours Nicolas Bion and his son, Jean Pigeon, Pierre Moullart-Sanson, Nicolas Fortin and Jean-Baptiste Fortin.
Working mainly as a publisher of maps and atlases, and interspersing his own distinguished works with reissues of those of his grand father Sanson, Gilles worked under his mother's maiden name of Robert. He was assisted by both his sons, Didier and Martin. Didier was to break with family tradition, however, not only by reverting to the patronymic Vaugondy, and by purchasing the fashionable particle 'de', but also by issuing as his first map in 1745 a set of globe gores accompanied by a book entitled Abrégé des Differens systèmes du monde de la sphère et des usages des globes, suivant les hypothèses de Ptolemée et de Copernic
Based on these gores, Didier produced his first globe in 1750, a 6in. diameter terrestrial. This was presented to Louis XV, himself a student of geography in his youth and ardent supporter of the work of the Royal Academy of Sciences, in petition for the title of Géographe Ordinaire du Roi, the position of which he duly won.
As he mentions in the preface to his later work, Usages des Globes, De Vaugondy discussed with the king the difficulties of representing the recently researched "flattening" of the Poles on such a small sphere, and out of this was born the royal command for a pair of 18in. diameter globes for use by the Navy, the largest globes to be constructed in France since Vincenzo Coronelli's three-and-a-half foot pair of 1688/1693. De Vaugondy's pair was presented to Louis in November or December 1751, along with a special edition of Usages des Globes. The globes had been approved by the Royal Academy of Sciences, including astronomers Cassini and Le Monnier, but De Vaugondy was already in the planning stages of his next project, a 6-foot diameter globe, even better to illustrate the non-spherical nature of the Earth. It was to be accompanied, according to the preface of Usages des Globes, by a treatise on the construction of such a sphere, as well as a description of the allegorical figures adorning the proposed stand and the geographical and cartographical methods employed. This grand plan was never to come to fruition, however, abandoned due to the various impracticalities involved, not least of which was a proposed outlay of 26,000 livres for the workshop conversion alone.
From 1784 until his death in 1786, de Vaugondy was to collaborate closely and in a number of different capacities, with Nicolas Gabriel le Clerc and Dom Claude Bergevin on an 8-foot diameter terrestrial globe, today housed at Versailles. He also issued terrestrial and celestial globes of the more managable sizes of 3, 6, 9 and 18in. diameter and his wish to write a treatise on the construction of globes was also fulfilled when, as a result presumably of his high productivity and constant innovation, he was approached by Diderot to write the entry for "Globes" in his Encyclopédie, published between 1751 and 1765. De Vaugondy's response was a seven-page article on the construction and usage of globes, describing everything from the choice of wood (knotty elm, for its high water resistance) to the preparation of the glue for the gores.
The 9in. diameter celestial globe was first published in 1754, with an accompanying terrestrial sphere. However, following first the takeover of his workshop by Jean Fortin (1750-1831), and the subsequent takeover of the whole concern by Charles-François Delamarche (1740-1817) (Successeur de MM Sanson et Robert de Vaugondi, Géographes du Roi, et de M. Fortin Ingénieur-mécanicien du Roi pour les globes et les sphères as he often termed himself on his cartouche), de Vaugondy's globes were reissued in more or less identical form, until Delamarche began to publish his own gores in the early nineteenth century.