The First Issue of National Geographic Magazine

Cover of January, 1915 National Geographic Mag...

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On this day in 1888, the newly established National Geographic Society began producing the National Geographic magazine, a scientific journal with no photographs, for their 165 members. The small group of men had as their mission “the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge.”

In spite of its global interests, National Geographic was rather a family affair when it started. Gardiner Greene Hubbard, an early investor in the first telephone company, was the first president of the Society; when he died, his son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, took over. Bell personally financed the expansion of the magazine, hiring Gilbert Grosvenor, the man who would soon become his son-in-law, as the editor-in-chief. Grosvenor eventually took over as the Society’s president … and then his son held the position … and then his grandson.

Along the way, the magazine transformed from a dry, scholarly periodical with a dull brown cover to one renowned for its coveted maps and pioneering photography, and the Society grew from a small, elite group to one with millions of members, funding projects like Jane Goodall’s studies of chimps and Jacques Cousteau’s underwater exploration. All of which suggests, given the five consecutive generations of family members at its helm, that nepotism isn’t always a bad thing.

Source: The Writer’s Almanac September 22, 2011. [newsletter@americanpublicmedia.org]

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