National Geographic Society

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National Geographic Society
Logo of the National Geographic Society
Logo of the National Geographic Society
Motto"Inspiring people to care about the planet."[1]
FormationGardiner Greene Hubbard, January 27, 1888; 125 years ago (1888-01-27)
LocationWashington, D.C., USA
Membership8.5 million
ChairmanJohn M. Fahey, Jr.
CEO/PresidentGary E. Knell
Main organBoard of Trustees
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National Geographic Society
Logo of the National Geographic Society
Logo of the National Geographic Society
Motto"Inspiring people to care about the planet."[1]
FormationGardiner Greene Hubbard, January 27, 1888; 125 years ago (1888-01-27)
LocationWashington, D.C., USA
Membership8.5 million
ChairmanJohn M. Fahey, Jr.
CEO/PresidentGary E. Knell
Main organBoard of Trustees

The National Geographic Society (NGS), headquartered in Washington, D.C. in the United States, is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation, and the study of world culture and history. The National Geographic Society’s logo is a yellow portrait frame – rectangular in shape – which appears on the margins surrounding the front covers of its magazines and as its television channel logo.


A dancer of the cafes, Algeria, 1917 photograph from the National Geographic Magazine

The National Geographic Society's historical mission is "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical, and natural resources. "[2] Its purpose is to inspire people to care about their planet, according to John M. Fahey, Jr., President and CEO since March 1998 and Chairman since January 2010. The Society is governed by a Board of Trustees whose 22 members include distinguished educators, business executives, former government officials, and conservationists.

The organization sponsors and funds scientific research and exploration. The Society publishes an official journal, National Geographic Magazine, in 34 languages. It also publishes other magazines, books, school products, maps, other publications, and web and film products in numerous languages and countries. Its educational foundation gives grants to education organizations and individuals to improve geography education.[3] Its Committee for Research and Exploration, which has given grants for scientific research for most of the Society's history, recently awarded its 10,000th such grant.

Its various media properties reach about 360 million people monthly.[4] National Geographic maintains a museum for the public in its Washington, D.C., headquarters. It has helped to sponsor popular traveling exhibits, such as an early 2010s "King Tut" exhibit featuring magnificent artifacts from the tomb of the young Egyptian Pharaoh; "The Cultural Treasures of Afghanistan" which opened in May 2008 and traveled to other cities for 18 months; and an exhibition of China's Terracotta Warriors in its Washington headquarters in 2009–10.

In November 2008, National Geographic opened a major retail store in London.


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

The National Geographic Society began as a club for an elite group of academics and wealthy patrons interested in travel.[5] On January 13, 1888, 33 explorers and scientists gathered at the Cosmos Club, a private club then located on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., to organize "a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge." After preparing a constitution and a plan of organization, the National Geographic Society was incorporated two weeks later on January 27. Gardiner Greene Hubbard became its first president and his son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, eventually succeeded him in 1897 following his death. In 1899 Bell's son-in-law Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor was named the first full-time editor of National Geographic Magazine and served the organization for fifty-five years (1954), and members of the Grosvenor family have played important roles in the organization since.

Bell and his son-in-law, Grosvenor, devised the successful marketing notion of Society membership and the first major use of photographs to tell stories in magazines. The current Chairman and CEO of the Board of Trustees of National Geographic Society is John Fahey. The current Editor in Chief of the National Geographic Magazine is Chris Johns. Gilbert Melville Grosvenor, a former Chairman of the Society Board received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for the Society's leadership for Geography education. In 2004, the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. was one of the first buildings to receive a "Green" certification[6] from Global Green USA.[7] The National Geographic received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Communications and Humanity in October 2006 in Oviedo, Spain.


There were 33 founders.[8]


National Geographic[edit]

Cover of January 1915 National Geographic

The National Geographic Magazine, later shortened to National Geographic, published its first issue (October 1888) nine months after the Society was founded as the Society's official journal, a benefit for joining the tax exempt National Geographic Society. The magazine has had for many years[quantify] a trademarked yellow border around the edge of its cover.

There are 12 monthly issues of National Geographic per year, plus at least four additional map supplements. On rare occasions, special issues of the magazine are also created. The magazine contains articles about geography, popular science, world history, culture, current events and photography of places and things all over the world and universe. The National Geographic magazine is currently published in 32 language editions in many countries around the world. Combined English and other language circulation is nearly nine million monthly with more than fifty million readers monthly.

Other publications[edit]

In addition to its flagship magazine, the Society publishes six other periodicals in the United States:

The Society also runs an online news outlet called National Geographic Daily News, formerly the National Geographic News.

The Society previously published:

The Society has published maps, atlases, filmstrips, and numerous books. It also lends its license to other publishers, for example to Thames & Kosmos for a line of science kits.

In October 2007, National Geographic created a new Global Media group composed of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital media and maps units. Tim Kelly, 51, president and CEO of National Geographic Ventures, has been named president, Global Media.


Programs by the National Geographic Society are also broadcast on television. National Geographic television specials as well as television series have been aired on PBS and other networks in the United States and globally for many years. The Geographic series in the U.S. started on CBS in 1964, moved to ABC in 1973 and shifted to PBS (produced by WQED, Pittsburgh) in 1975. National Geographic Channel, launched in January 2001, is a joint venture of National Geographic Television & Film and Fox Cable Networks. It has featured stories on numerous scientific figures such as Louis Leakey, Jacques Cousteau, or Jane Goodall that not only featured their work but helped make them world-famous and accessible to millions. A majority of the specials were narrated by various actors, including Glenn Close, Stacy Keach, Richard Kiley, Susan Sarandon, Alexander Scourby, Martin Sheen and Peter Strauss. The specials' theme music, by Elmer Bernstein, was also adopted by the National Geographic Channel. The National Geographic Channel has begun to launch a number of subbranded channels in international markets, such as Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Adventure, Nat Geo Junior, and Nat Geo Music.

National Geographic Films, a wholly owned taxable subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, has also produced a feature film based on the diary of a Russian submarine commander starring Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker, and most recently retooling a French-made documentary for U.S. distribution with a new score and script narrated by Morgan Freeman called March of the Penguins, which received an Academy Award for the Best Documentary in 2006. After a record $77 million theatrical gross in the United States, over four million DVD copies of March of the Penguins have been sold. National Geographic Films launched a new feature film in July 2007 called Arctic Tale, featuring the story of two families of walrus and polar bears. Queen Latifah is the narrator of this film. Inspired by a National Geographic Magazine article, National Geographic opened a 3-D large format and Reality 3-D film called Sea Monsters, with a musical score by Peter Gabriel, in October of that year. National Geographic Films is co-producing with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt the 10-hour mini series of Steven Ambrose's award-winning Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West for HBO. In 2013, the network began airing the reality show Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?.

Other ventures[edit]

The Society currently licenses its trademark to The Vitec Group, a British photo and video equipment company best known as owner of the well-known Manfrotto brand. Vitec sells a line of camera bags and camera supports (tripods, monopods, and heads) under the National Geographic name and trademark.

Support for research and projects[edit]

National Geographic Society's Administration Building in Washington, D.C.

The Society has helped sponsor many expeditions and research projects over the years, including:

The Society supports many socially based projects including AINA, a Kabul-based organization dedicated to developing an independent Afghan media, which was founded by one of the Society's most famous photographers, Reza.

The Society also sponsors the National Geographic Bee, an annual geographic contest for American middle-school students. More than four million students a year begin the geography competition locally, which culminates in a national competition of the winners of each state each May in Washington, D.C. Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy!, has moderated the final competition since the competition began some seventeen years ago. Every two years, the Society conducts an international geography competition of competing teams from all over the world. The most recent was held in Mexico City on July 15, 2009, and had representatives from 15 national teams. The team from Canada emerged as the winner, with teams from the United States and Poland in second and third place.


Hubbard Medal[edit]

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's customized medal detailing her flight route

The Hubbard Medal is awarded by the National Geographic Society for distinction in exploration, discovery, and research. The medal is named for Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first National Geographic Society president. The Hubbard Medal has been presented 35 times as of 2010, the most recent award going to Don Walsh.

Alexander Graham Bell Medal[edit]

The National Geographic Society also awards, rarely, the Alexander Graham Bell Medal, for exceptional contributions to geographic research. The award is named after Alexander Graham Bell, scientist, inventor and the second president of the NGS. Up to mid-2011, the medal has been twice presented:[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Geographic Press Room: Fact Sheet". National Geographic Society. Retrieved August 28, 2009.  Also note that, as of August 28, 2009 (and likely before), the official website title is "National Geographic – Inspiring People to Care About the Planet".
  2. ^ "National Geographic Online". National Geographic Society. 
  3. ^ "National Geographic Education Foundation". National Geographic Society. 
  4. ^ "National Geographic Society". U.S. Department of State. 
  5. ^ Site designed by Shannon Roberts (April 24, 2007). "National Geographic CEO Says Nonprofit's Mission is Bringing the World to Readers". Retrieved June 6, 2010. 
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Global Green
  8. ^ "National Geographic founders". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2014-01-09. 
  9. ^ Stableford, Dylan. "National Geographic Discontinues Green Guide – Consumer @". Retrieved June 6, 2010. 
  10. ^ Explorer-in-Residence
  11. ^ David Braun (July 13, 2010). "Nat Geo awards Alexander Graham Bell Medals to GIS pioneers". National Geographic Society. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Bradford and Barbara Washburn, Climbers". National Geographic Society. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Official websites
Additional resources
Additional information
Photos, maps, and other images

Coordinates: 38°54′18″N 77°02′16″W / 38.9051°N 77.0379°W / 38.9051; -77.0379