The National Geographic Society was founded on this day in 1888. Today one of the largest and respected nonprofit educational institutions in the world, the NGS had early growing pains, says Gilbert Grosvenor (president of the NGS from 1980–96) in his Foreword to National Geographic: 125 Years:
My great-great-grandfather was Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who in 1888 had called together a group of government explorers and helped weld them into a society established for “the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge.” Though he was its first President, it was in hindsight an organization bound to founder, if only because it had no endowment and because, as one wag later put it, its forbidding journal was diffusing “geographic knowledge among those who already had it and scaring off the rest.”
According to Grosvenor, it was Alexander Graham Bell (Grosvenor’s great-grandfather and Hubbard’s son-in-law) who realized that “without a dime to its name, the Society needed to make ‘diffusion’ pay for ‘increase.’ ” Being more interested in his own inventions, Bell passed the NGS project down the family line. It was Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor (Grosvenor’s father, Bell’s son-in-law) who “made pictures the language of National Geographic magazine” and insisted that “all articles must be accurate, objective, of enduring value, and ‘of a kindly nature.’ “
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.