Exactly 125 years ago this week, 33 of the top explorers and scientists in the U.S. came together at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss the creation of “a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.” Over the next two weeks, the esteemed group deliberated over a constitution and prepared a plan of organization that would govern their new club, and on January 27, 1888 the National Geographic Society was born, changing exploration and adventure forever.
In those early years, the Society had a simple approach to exploration. Its members spread out across the globe, filling in the blank spots on the map and returning with stories of the amazing places they visited and the strange people they met along the way. Those explorers and geographers uncovered ancient ruins, lost civilizations and natural wonders, then came home to share their tales of high adventure with a rapt audience. Those stories were so compelling in fact that nine months after the organization launched, it published the first issue of its official journal chronicling the deeds and discoveries of many of its members.
With its iconic yellow border and its trademark outstanding photography, National Geographic Magazine became the very public face of the Society. Over the decades, the glossy, high-quality publication would deliver the latest news on exploration, conservation and science into the homes of subscribers, giving them a monthly dose of news from the field. Its top notch writing and often surreal images soon made it one of the most respected periodicals on the planet, with millions of subscribers worldwide. Today, the magazine is published in 32 languages and remains the organizations most visible and popular component.
As the decades past, and those blank spots on the map started to disappear, the mission of the National Geographic Society began to evolve into something a little different. The organization understood that there were numerous other areas where research and exploration could be of benefit and its members went looking for ways to fill in the blank spots of human knowledge instead. Geography was no longer the only area of concern, with science, medicine, technology, history and other fields rising to the forefront. The Society would continue to sponsor explorers that traveled to the remote corners of our planet of course, but it also began accepting doctors, engineers, naturalists and researchers into its ranks. By changing with the times and adapting to the needs of society, the organization has managed to remain as vibrant and relevant in the twenty-first century as it was when it was first conceived by those 33 founding members more than a century ago.
Throughout this year, the National Geographic Society will be celebrating this special 125th anniversary by not just looking back at the amazing history it has witnessed, but by looking ahead to all of the amazing things that are yet to be accomplished. The organization already has a rich legacy of exploration and discovery under its belt, but that hasn’t stopped it from preparing for another 125 years of asking questions and finding answers.
Congratulations to all of our friends at the National Geographic Society. We look forward to whatever comes next.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo Credit: Hugo Van Lawick]