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How did National Geographic start?

by Sam Orange

We all basically know National Geographic, the magazine and the television channel with the yellow portrait frame for a logo, that inspire us to care about our planet.  Since they always like to present us with research in geography, archaeology and natural science, promotion of environmental and historical conservation, and the study of world culture and history, let's dig into some research about National Geographic themselves today:

The beginnings of the National Geographic Society go back to Cosmos club, a private social club founded in 1878 that states among its goals "the advancement of its members in science, literature, and art".  It is here where in 1888, 33 explorers and scientists gathered 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.

Among its presidents were Alexander Graham Bell, the man credited with the invention of the first practical telephone, who was one of the founders and the second president of the National Geographic Society. 

In October 1888 the first issue of National Geographic Magazine was sent to 200 charter members. 

In January 1905 the editor filled 11 pages of the magazine with photographs of Lhasa in Tibet. Expecting to be fired, he was instead congratulated by Society members.

However, in 1906 when he published George Shiras III's pioneering flash photographs of animals at night, two National Geographic Society board members resigned in disgust, claiming magazine is turning into a "picture book."

Other interesting highlights among hundreds of accomplishments over the years include the National Geographic Society opening its storehouse of photographs, maps and other cartographic data to President Roosevelt to aid in war efforts;  Apollo 11 astronauts carrying the National Geographic society flag to the moon in July 1969; and a holographic image of an eagle on the cover of the magazine in March 1984, pioneering the use of holograms in large circulation magazines.  

Since 1964 the National Geographic television programs have aired and changed networks a few times until the National Geographic Channel launched in January 2001.  

National Geographic Films have also produced feature length documentary films including K-19: The Widow Maker, March Of The Penguins and a 3-D large format and Reality 3-D film called Sea Monsters

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.

Some critisisms of National Geographic include claims of "the one-directionality of its cross-cultural contact, its claim of objectivity and representations that build layers of a world hierarchy", its being "intimately tied to the American establishment" and how it "cultivates ties to government officials and corporate interests".  Also the book Reading National Geographic notes how photos are sometimes electronically manipulated, and documents how NG photographers have encouraged their subjects to change costumes when their clothing was seen as "too drab" for the magazine.

Currently with a worldwide circulation in thirty-two language editions, more than fifty million people receive the National Geographic magazine every month, while the various media properties reach about 360 million people around the world monthly.


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