Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky

Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky

Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky

Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky


"THEY'VE MADE IT! They're atop Everest!" The news came to Society headquarters from halfway around the globe, and I couldn't suppress a shout: "Wonderful, just wonderful!"

Like millions throughout the world, I had followed each step of the American Mount Everest Expedition as it tackled mountaineering's greatest challenge. Like all Americans, I was thrilled that Old Glory waved from earth's summit.

But the triumph held special significance for me -- the National Geographic Society was the principal sponsor for this 1963 expedition. And when our own staff man Barry Bishop unfurled National Geographic's blue, brown, and green banner beside our nation's flag atop Everest, it seemed a fitting capstone to all the great adventures that have marked the Society's 75 years of exploring land, sea, and sky.

Yet adventure is only part of the Everest story. This was a scientific quest for secrets of glaciers, climate, and the effects of high altitude on men -- secrets that can be explored only on the frigid reaches of earth's highest peaks.

Great scientists, great explorers -- such were the imaginative men who created the National Geographic Society. John Wesley Powell had explored the raging Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Adolphus W. Greely had led a polar expedition that set a record for "Farthest North" - 83°24'. George Kennan had crossed Arctic Siberia by dog sled.

These and 30 other men of action and of science met in the Cosmos Club in Washington, D. C., on the evening of January 13, 1888, to consider "the advisability of organizing a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge." Though the night was chill and foggy, the project kindled warm enthusiasm.

The Society was born, and its first President, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, my greatgrandfather, grasped the magnitude of the challenge as they embarked "on the great ocean of discovery."

Two years later the Society's first expedition set out for the unknown -- the Mount St. Elias region in Alaska. The explorer -- scientists mapped 600 square miles of wilderness, discovered 19,850-foot Mount Logan, North America's second highest peak, and reported their findings in the Society's studious little journal.

The transformation of that journal with its terra-cotta cover into today's brilliantly illustrated National Geographic was no dramatic caterpillar-to-butterfly change. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone and second President of the Society, envisioned a magazine of broad appeal -- geography in human terms -- and set about finding an editor. He hired my father, Gilbert H. Grosvenor -- and gained a son-in-law in the bargain.

In the 55 years that my father guided and developed the magazine, changing Dr. Bell's "bright vision into fact," he moved with the tide of exploration that swept into earth's farthest corners.

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt awarded the National Geographic Society's first Hubbard Medal to a stubborn, red- headed naval officer for reaching a new "Farthest North" - 87°06'. And when this explorer, Robert E. Peary, set out two years later for his cruel trek over the ice to the North Pole -- a feat never accomplished before, or since -- his expedition went with a supporting grant, the largest our Society had made to that time.

I recall first seeing Peary (and learning that his name was pronounced "Peer-y") when he was a luncheon guest at my father's house. Just 11, I was allowed to peep through the curtains at the distinguished guests. And, as boys will, I found myself looking instead at the ice cream being served. Suddenly, Admiral Peary . . .

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