The National Geographic Society was founded in 1888 "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge." The Society believes in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world, and its purpose is to inspire, illuminate and teach. National Geographic is governed by a board of trustees, whose 21 members include distinguished educators, business executives, former government officials and conservationists.
The organization sponsors and funds scientific research and exploration. 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. Its Education Foundation gives grants to education organizations and individuals to improve geography education. Its Committee for Research and Exploration has awarded more than 11,000 grants for scientific research and exploration.
National Geographic has retail stores in Washington, D.C., London, Sydney, and Panama. The locations outside of the United States are operated by Worldwide Retail Store S.L., a Spanish holding company.
The Society's media arm is National Geographic Partners, a joint venture between 21st Century Fox and the Society, which publishes a journal, National Geographic in English and nearly 40 local-language editions. It also publishes other magazines, books, school products, maps, and Web and film products in numerous languages and countries. National Geographic's various media properties reach more than 280 million people monthly.
The National Geographic Society began as a club for an elite group of academics and wealthy patrons interested in travel. 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, succeeded him in 1897. 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 (until 1954), and members of the Grosvenor family have played important roles in the organization since. Bell and Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor devised the successful marketing notion of Society membership and the first major use of photographs to tell stories in magazines.
The current National Geographic Society president and CEO is Gary E. Knell. The chairman of the board of trustees is John Fahey. The editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine is Susan Goldberg. Gilbert Melville Grosvenor, a former chairman of the Society board of trustees received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his leadership in geography education.
In 2004, the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., was one of the first buildings to receive a "Green" certification from Global Green USA. The National Geographic received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities in October 2006 in Oviedo, Spain.
In 2013 the society was investigated for possible violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act relating to their close association with an Egyptian government official responsible for antiquities.
On September 9, 2015, the Society announced that it would re-organize its media properties and publications into a new company known as National Geographic Partners, which will be majority-owned by 21st Century Fox with a 73% stake. This new, for-profit corporation, will own National Geographic and other magazines, as well as its affiliated television networks—most of which were already owned in joint ventures with Fox. At the time of the deal’s announcement, James Murdoch, the CEO of 21st Century Fox, said in remarks to National Geographic that the pact created "an expanded canvas for the National Geographic brand to grow and reach customers in new ways, and to reach new customers."
On November 2, 2015, roughly two weeks before the closing of the expanded joint venture deal, National Geographic and 21st Century Fox announced that 9 percent of National Geographic's 2,000 employees, approximately 180 people, will be laid off, constituting the biggest staff reduction in the Society's history.
As reported by The Guardian, a spokesman for National Geographic in a November 2, 2015 e-mail statement, briefly discussed the rationale for the staff reductions as part of the "... process of reorganizing in order to move forward strategically following the closing the National Geographic Partners deal, which is expected to occur in mid-November."
Additional specifics were provided to Photo District News by M.J. Jacobsen, National Geographic’s SVP of communications, similar to the contents of a formal announcement by the two companies. "The National Geographic Society and the National Geographic Channels are in the process of reorganizing in order to move forward strategically following the closing of the NG Partners deal (with Fox), which is expected to occur in mid-November," Jaobsen wrote. "Involuntary separations will represent about 9 percent of the overall workforce reduction, many in shared services and a voluntary separation offer has also been made to eligible employees," he added.
Specifics as to which departments would be affected were not immediately available but the Washington Post reported that the staff reduction appears to affect almost every department including the magazine and the National Geographic Channel.
On October 26, 2016, National Geographic announced a rebrand and the television network dropped "Channel" from its name.
There were 33 original founders in 1888. Although Alexander Graham Bell is sometimes discussed as a founder, he was actually the second president, elected on January 7, 1898 and serving until 1903.Cleveland Abbe
John Russell Bartlett
Charles J. Bell
Arthur Powell Davis
Grove Karl Gilbert
George Brown Goode
James Howard Gore
Adolphus Washington Greely
Edward Everett Hayden
Henry Wetherbee Henshaw
Gardiner Greene Hubbard
Willard Drake Johnson
George Wallace Melville
Clinton Hart Merriam
Robert Muldrow II
Herbert Gouverneur Ogden
John Wesley Powell
William Bramwell Powell
Winfield Scott Schley
Almon Harris Thompson
Otto Hilgard Tittmann
James Clarke Welling
The National Geographic Magazine, later shortened to National Geographic, published its first issue in 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. Starting with the February 1910 (Vol XXI., No. 2) issue, the magazine began using its now famous trademarked yellow border around the edge of its covers.
There are 12 monthly issues of National Geographic per year. 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. National Geographic magazine is currently published in 40 local-language editions in many countries around the world. Combined English and other language circulation is around 6.8 million monthly, with some 60 million readers.
In addition to its flagship magazine, the Society publishes several other periodicals:National Geographic Explorer: Classroom magazine. The National Geographic School Bulletin was launched in 1919 and was replaced by the children's magazine National Geographic World in 1975. NG World was separated into the current National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Kids in 2001. It has four separate editions, for different grades, and has grown to about 2½ million circulation.
National Geographic History: Launched in Spring 2015.
National Geographic Kids: A version of National Geographic Magazine for children, launched in 1975 under the name National Geographic World. It has a U.S. circulation of over 1.5 million. There are also currently 18 local-language editions of NG Kids, with another half million in circulation. An Arabic edition of the children's magazine was launched in Egypt in early 2007, and more than 42,000 copies are distributed to all the public schools in Egypt, in addition to another 15,000 single copy sales. More recently, an Albanian and Polish edition were launched.
National Geographic Little Kids: For younger children aged 3–6
National Geographic Traveler: Launched in 1984. There are 18 local-language editions of NG Traveler.
The Society also runs an online news outlet called National Geographic Daily News.
Additionally, the Society publishes atlases, books, and maps. It previously published and co-published other magazines, including National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Research (a scientific journal), and others, and continues to publish special issues of various magazines.
National Geographic Films is a wholly owned taxable subsidiary of the National Geographic Society. Films it has produced include:K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), a feature film, submarine thriller based on the diary of a Russian submarine commander, starring Harrison Ford.
March of the Penguins (2005), a French-made documentary for U.S. distribution with a new score and script, narrated by Morgan Freeman; it 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.
Arctic Tale (2007), a feature film documenting the story of two families of walrus and polar bears, narrated by Queen Latifah.
Sea Monsters (2007), inspired by a National Geographic Magazine article, is a 3-D large format and reality film, with a musical score by Peter Gabriel.
The Last Lions (2011)
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West, a co-production for HBO by National Geographic Films, Edward Norton, and Brad Pitt, is a 10-hour mini series of Steven Ambrose's award-winning book. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West for HBO.
Robots 3D (movie) (2015)
Programs by the National Geographic Society are also broadcast on television. National Geographic television specials and 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, shifted to PBS (produced by WQED, Pittsburgh) in 1975, shifted to NBC in 1995, and returned to PBS in 2000.
National Geographic Channel, launched in January 2001, is a joint venture of National Geographic and Fox Cable Networks. It has featured stories on numerous scientific figures such as Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, and Louis Leakey that not only featured their work but as well helped make them world-famous and accessible to millions. Most of the specials were narrated by various actors, including Glenn Close, Linda Hunt, Stacy Keach, Richard Kiley, Burgess Meredith, 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 sub-branded channels in international markets, such as Nat Geo Adventure, Nat Geo Music, and Nat Geo Wild.
The National Geographic Partners expanded joint venture with 21st Century Fox (to be controlled by the latter) will be concluded in mid-November 2015 with the new for-profit organization to own a 73% stake of the NG affiliated television networks (National Geographic-branded cable TV channels), most of which were already co-owned (with the percentage information not readily available), as per earlier joint ventures with Fox.
The Society operates the National Geographic Museum, located at 1145 17th Street, NW (17th and M), in Washington, D.C. The museum features changing photography exhibitions featuring the work of National Geographic explorers, photographers, and scientists. There are also changing exhibits related to natural history, culture, history or society.
The Society has helped sponsor many expeditions and research projects over the years, including:Codex Tchacos – Conservation and translation of the only known surviving copy of the Gospel of Judas
Ian Baker – Discovers hidden waterfall of the Tsangpo Gorge, Tibet
Robert Ballard – RMS Titanic (1985) and John F. Kennedy's PT-109 (2002) discovery
Robert Bartlett – Arctic Exploration (1925–45)
George Bass – Underwater archaeology – Bronze Age trade
Lee Berger – Oldest footprints of modern humans ever found and Homo naledi
Hiram Bingham – Machu Picchu Excavation (1915)
Richard E. Byrd – First flight over South Pole (1929)
Jacques-Yves Cousteau – Undersea exploration
Mike Fay – MegaTransect (1999) and MegaFlyover (2004) in Africa
Dian Fossey – Mountain gorillas
Birute Galdikas – Orangutans
Jane Goodall – Chimpanzees
Robert F. Griggs – Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes (1916)
Heather Halstead – World Circumnavigations of Reach the World
Louis and Mary Leakey – Discovery of Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis
Gustavus McLeod – First flight to the North Pole in an open-air cockpit aircraft
Robert Peary and Matthew Henson – North Pole Expedition (1905)
Israel Russell Ascent of Mount St Elias on the Alaska-Canada border, 1890
Paul Sereno – Dinosaurs
Will Steger – Polar Exploration & First Explorer-in-Residence 1996
Spencer Wells – The Genographic Project
Xu Xing – Discovery of fossil dinosaurs in China that have distinct feathers
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 organizes the National Geographic Bee, an annual geographic contest for U.S. fourth- through eighth-graders. About 4 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. Journalist Soledad O'Brien is the moderator of the Bee. She succeeded Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy!, who moderated the final round of the competition for 25 years, from its inception in 1989 to 2013. Every two years, the Society conducts an international geography competition of competing teams from all over the world. The most recent was held in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July 2013, and had representatives from 19 national teams. The team from the United States emerged as the winner, with teams from Canada and India in second and third place.
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.
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:1980: Bradford Washburn and wife Barbara Washburn
2010: Roger Tomlinson and Jack Dangermond