January 27 – National Geographic Day

Posted on January 27, 2015

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the National Geographic Society on this date in 1888.

National Geographic wasn't a magazine, yet—but the founders started the society in order to increase the public's knowledge about geography. The 33 men who started the organization included geographers, explorers, and cartographers (mapmakers)—just the guys you would expect to start such an organization!—but the group also included lawyers, teachers, financiers, and military officers.

They realized that Americans were increasingly curious about other places and peoples. They chose a lawyer and a philanthropist to head the Society, because they hoped that the Society would be able to reach out to the layman (in other words, reach all the people who aren't explorers and geographers themselves).

This is one of the most
famous magazine covers
of any magazine, of all time.

Of course, it's National
Nine months later, the first issue of National Geographic Magazine was published. But the magazine wasn't reaching very many laymen, as the Society had hoped. The articles were short and technical and largely text. In 1899, a man named Gilbert Grosvenor took over as editor and made some big changes. Suddenly articles of general interest began to appear. And those articles were illustrated by gorgeous photographs!

In just a few years, the magazine went from a thousand subscribers to two million subscribers!

The profits from the magazine are used to sponsor more expeditions and research projects. The Society has given grants for such now-famous endeavors as Robert Peary's journey to the North Pole, Richard Byrd's flight over the South Pole, Jacques Cousteau's underwater exploration, and Jane Goodall's observation of wild chimpanzees.

These days, even though few people still purchase magazines because of all the content available online (often for free), National Geographic Magazine boasts about nine million subscribers (many, no doubt, libraries in which many people enjoy each magazine!). And the National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions.

  • Here is a cool zoomable world map.
  • And there are loads of maps available for sale.

Also on this date:

Author Lewis Carroll's birthday

Plan ahead:

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