Happy Birthday to the National Geographic Society – 125 Years Today!

alt="Official National Geographic proposal"

The official National Geographic proposal, presented to Italian Admiral Ernesto Burzagli when he was awarded membership in the National Geographic Society in 1928.

If you wander into National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, DC and look up at the ceiling, you will see recessed lighting forming constellations appearing exactly as they did in the night sky 125 years ago. It was then, in 1888, that The National Geographic Society was born. The conversation that started it all took place among 33 voyagers – scientists, explorers, mapmakers, meteorologists, a naturalist and a one-armed Civil War hero – at the very private Cosmos Club in DC. They constructed a constitution to plan an integrated coalition of members that would support dedicated travel. Two weeks later, on January 27, the Society was deployed.

The first president was Gardiner Greene Hubbard. His son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell would eventually succeed him in 1897 following his death. Not long after, in November of 1888, a journal named “The National Geographic Magazine” was founded. The publication was quick to adopt successful marketing approaches and was the first media platform to use photographs from the field to sell stories – the magazine was originally given as a benefit to members of the tax exempt organization.

Where National Geographic really made their mark was with groundbreaking research from grantees in the field. Some of our favorite ground-breaks include:
  • Robert Ballard – RMS Titanic (1985) and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 (2002) 
  • Robert Bartlett – Arctic Exploration (1925–45)
  • Lee Berger – Oldest footprints of modern humans ever found
  • Hiram Bingham – Machu Picchu Excavation (1915)
  • Richard E. Byrd – First flight over South Pole (1929)
  • Jacques-Yves Cousteau – Undersea exploration
  • The cover of the Original National Geographic Society magazine

    The cover of the Original National Geographic Society magazine

    Dian Fossey – Mountain gorillas

  • Birute Galdikas – Orangutans
  • Jane Goodall – Chimpanzees
  • Louis and Mary Leakey – Discovery of manlike Zinjanthropus, more than 1.75 million years old
  • Gustavus McLeod – First flight to the North Pole in an open-air cockpit aircraft
  • Robert Peary and Matthew Henson – North Pole Expedition (1905)
  • Spencer Wells – The Genographic Project

In just over a century, The Society has transformed itself from an elite club of academics and wealthy patrons with a love for travel to the single most recognizable brand of support for exploration, research, and conservation activities in the entire world. And miraculously, this world is in some way accessible to us all.The National Geographic brand is one that everybody on earth identifies with and aligns with personal stories. To my father and his friends of academia – Jane Goodall’s 1960 magazine cover would rival Bo Derek’s red bathing suit. To the children of the 1980’s, it was as good as Playboy magazine. To small communities throughout the world today, it is a connection to people and cultures that they may never see. To anthropologists, research conducted by NatGeo grantees unearths unexplored theories yet to be extrapolated  And to all of us, every movement provides a good dose of inspiration to plan our next trip.

So travel on, National Geographic. If your tagline is “inspiring people to care about the planet,” then you have done what you’ve set out to do. We are completely inspired.


© 2013, World on a Fork. All rights reserved.


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Categories: Adventure + Exploration, History + Legends

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