Explorers House: National Geographic and the World It Made

Explorers House: National Geographic and the World It Made

by Robert Poole

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For over one hundred years, National Geographic has brought “the world and all that's in it” to millions of people worldwide. Through its unparalleled research, exploration, publications, and photography, the organization and its magazine have, in many ways, defined how we see the world. Now Robert Poole's Explorers House offers a vibrant, behind

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For over one hundred years, National Geographic has brought “the world and all that's in it” to millions of people worldwide. Through its unparalleled research, exploration, publications, and photography, the organization and its magazine have, in many ways, defined how we see the world. Now Robert Poole's Explorers House offers a vibrant, behind-the-scenes look at National Geographic, from its start in 1888 under the leadership of Alexander Graham Bell and the Grosvenor family to its evolution into one of the world's most esteemed institutions. With unprecedented views and details of some of the magazine's most groundbreaking articles and explorations, Explorers House presents National Geographic from the inside out, from its remarkable family to the very ends of the earth it investigates.

“A wonderfully subtle and exhaustive—and even shocking—portrait of an age and of an institution.” — Paul Theroux
“A great journey.” —Caroline Alexander, author of The Bounty and The Endurance

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
The history of the National Geographic Society is really the story of a family dedicated to bringing steadily advancing knowledge of the earth to a general readership. Founder Gardiner Hubbard construed the term "geography" rather broadly, including anything animal, vegetable or mineral, residing on land, in the sea, or in the clouds. The advent of the magazine launched a successful and influential enterprise, one that sent explorers and adventurers across the globe to brave ocean depths and live among foreign tribes. Upon Hubbard's death, his widow prevailed upon her son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, to take the helm. Bell later passed it along to his own son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, whose family continued to dominate the administration of the Society for most of a century.

Poole is eminently qualified to detail this history; he recently retired as executive editor of the magazine, ending a 21-year career there. The fruit of his labors is a fascinating, assiduously researched, and liberally documented history that mimics the engaging style of the magazine itself. Following the chronology of the magazine, Poole introduces readers to myriad idiosyncratic personalities - not only the explorers themselves, but the members of an unforgettable media dynasty whose work has shaped global impressions for generations of readers. (Holiday 2004 Selection)

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Penguin Group (USA)
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5.54(w) x 8.42(h) x 0.87(d)
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18 Years

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You would not have known that Mabel Hubbard was deaf. On a crisp October morning in 1873, she chatted with Mary True all the way up Beacon Hill with hardly a pause, their conversation flowing back and forth as they climbed through the smell of crunching leaves, up past the stone walls of the old Boston reservoir, up toward the Old Granary Burying Ground. A tall, thin girl just shy of sixteen, Mabel had lost her hearing at age five in a struggle with scarlet fever. She kept her eyes fixed on her friend's lips, reading them expertly.

Mary was saying something about a young teacher named Alexander Graham Bell who had an office just up the street. When he was not teaching at Boston University's School of Oratory he gave private lessons in speech. Mary thought that perhaps Professor Bell could help Mabel improve her articulation, which was perfectly understandable but delivered in the slightly nasal monotone characteristic of those who had been deaf when they learned to talk.

Mabel knew of this Professor Bell. She thought he was a crank. But since they were in the neighborhood and she wanted to be polite, she agreed to stop at 18 Beacon Street. The two young friends climbed the stairs, entered a dark green reception room, and settled in to wait for the professor. When he appeared, Mabel was frankly unimpressed. To her young eye, this twenty-six-year-old Scotsman looked impossibly old and unfashionable, with a thatch of unruly hair that stood up like a pileated woodpecker's crest; Bell nervously tried to calm his cowlick by combing his fingers through it, which did little to improve Mabel's opinion of him. "I did not like him," Mabel concluded. "To one accustomed to the dainty neatness of Harvard students, he seemed hardly a gentleman. He was tall and dark, with jet black hair and eyes, but dressed badly and carelessly in an old-fashioned suit of black broadcloth, making his hair look shiny....I could never marry such a man!" Even so, Mabel thought that she might learn something from him, so she agreed to a few lessons.

Over the next few weeks, she went daily to Mr. Bell's classroom. Almost against her will, she found herself looking forward to the sessions, where Bell chalked sketches of lips and mouths on the blackboard to show how she could speak more clearly. He opened his mouth and let her look inside to see how he shaped each word. The professor for his part was impressed by Mabel's total concentration, the way her eyes stayed locked on his face. She was a creative listener who quickly grasped not only the content but the spirit of a conversation.

Mabel's view of Bell began to soften. He was "so quick, so enthusiastic, so compelling, I had whether I would or no to follow all he said and tax my brains to respond as he desired," Mabel wrote her mother that autumn. Infinitely patient, enthusiastic, and solicitous of his young student, Bell flattered Mabel. "Mr. Bell said today my voice was naturally sweet," Mabel wrote to her mother. "Think of that! If I can only learn to use it properly, perhaps I will yet rival you in sweetness of voice. He continues pleased with me....I enjoy my lessons very much and am glad you want me to stay. Everyone says it would be a pity to go away just as I am really trying to improve."

For most of her young life Mabel Hubbard had been trying to improve, fighting against the barriers imposed upon her by deafness. She was able to do so because she was smart, adaptable, and full of confidence, but she was also lucky. Her family, from a prominent New England line, had refused to send Mabel away to an asylum, where she would have been confined with other deaf students and taught only sign language, the standard treatment in her day. Such an education was fine for communicating within the realm of the deaf but it did very little to integrate its graduates into the world at large, and Mabel's family had determined that their daughter would live fully in society. They spoke to Mabel as if she could hear so that she soon learned to read lips, and they hired private teachers for her. They traveled with her to Austria, where a leading instructor helped to perfect her lip reading. By the time she returned to the United States and began lessons with Bell, Mabel Hubbard was functioning smoothly in the world of the hearing. When it came to their daughter's interests, Gertrude and Gardiner Greene Hubbard never hesitated to use their prominence, which was considerable.

Hubbard traced his lineage to the 1600s and the European settlement of New England. John Haynes, the first governor of Connecticut, was an ancestor, as was Sir John Leverett, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1673. Another ancestor had been an early president of Harvard College, and Gardiner's father, Samuel Hubbard, served as a judge on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Gardiner himself, after studying at Dartmouth and Harvard Law School, followed his father into the law, opening a lucrative practice of his own in 1848.

Known for his frank manner, which often strayed into bluntness, Hubbard made for an imposing figure, standing just under six feet tall, with a high forehead, a Roman nose, a massive beard, and eyes variously described as hazel or black. Perhaps out of boredom or an excess of energy, he found himself unable to focus on a conventional career. He dived into a range of business interests and public causes that might have drowned one less driven. He beat competitors to start the first rail trolley linking Cambridge and Boston in 1856; he brought the first waterworks to Cambridge; he founded the Cambridge Gas Light Company; he helped start the Boston Rubber Shoe Company and served as an officer there; he invested in Nova Scotia coal mines and a Washington State ranch. He also explored a scheme to corner the Boston market on pimento liquor, which came to naught, as did his brash plot to nationalize the country's telegraphic system, then under the monopolistic control of Western Union. Failure did little to discourage Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Even when he did not get his way, this stiff, stubborn aristocrat always behaved as if he would-and should-prevail.

Restless confidence was a trait Hubbard shared with Alexander Graham Bell, whom Hubbard had met through his contacts in New England's thriving educational community. Hubbard had been impressed by this bright, earnest young man, whose pursuits seemed as varied as his own. Bell hurried through his days, teaching students, giving lectures, and sorting through the many subjects crowding his mind, which flitted from vocal physiology to music to the challenges of flight, a subject he often considered when he glimpsed seagulls coasting above the Boston Common. "I cannot manage all that I lay myself out to do," Bell said. "I rush from one thing to another and before I know it the day is gone." By night Bell retreated to the small laboratory he kept in Salem, where he was feverishly taking notes and experimenting with designs for a multiple telegraph, so named because it would allow multiple messages to be carried on a single telegraphic wire; if such a device could be made to work, it would greatly enhance the carrying capacity of the country's telegraphic system and bring great wealth to its inventor. After a long night in the lab, Bell would lock away his notes, sleep a few hours, and renew the cycle.

The professor stood a lanky six feet tall, with a penetrating gaze that unnerved some people. With his thick black muttonchops and dark features, he might have been a buccaneer or an actor. His flair for the dramatic had been honed by intensive training in London, where his grandfather and namesake, Alexander Bell, had coached the youth in public speaking. The elder Bell, a prominent elocutionist and teacher, took young Alec in hand at age fourteen, taught him Latin, immersed him in Shakespeare and other essential literature, and scrubbed away all traces of the boy's native Edinburgh. When his grandfather was done, Alexander Graham Bell went out into the world with a polish and dignity remarkable in one so young. He could be compelling company. People were disarmed by his childlike enthusiasm, which might launch him into a Mohawk war dance in moments of happiness, or keep him banging away on the piano half the night. Just beneath that surface, though, was another Alec Bell, one who fought all his life against a preference for solitude, a tendency that threatened to cut him off from society. Since his youth, spent in Scotland and London, he had moved with his parents to Ontario in 1870; from there he emigrated to Boston, where he quickly established himself as a gifted teacher of the deaf.

Sympathetic and sensitive, Alec knew how to draw deaf children into the world of the hearing. He invented games for them, helped them draw pictures to illustrate their thoughts, and taught them to spell and to read. He encouraged roomfuls of them to shout at the top of their lungs so that, even if they could not hear their own words, they could feel the power of their voices vibrating through the furniture. These often difficult and misunderstood children had few allies as firm as Bell.

In Mabel Hubbard's case, Bell's devotion was developing into something more-a romantic interest in his student. After resisting these feelings for weeks, Bell, now twenty-seven, had to admit that he was in love with a pupil ten years his junior. He confessed this only to himself. He could not reveal this affection to one so young, nor could he continue teaching her, nor could he bear to tell her parents about his feelings. So, after less than a dozen lessons with Mabel, Bell passed her off to an assistant who continued the girl's instruction. Surprised by this sudden shift in teaching assignments, Gertrude Hubbard asked for an explanation. Bell told her that there was nothing wrong with Mabel's work. She was a good student. "I have no fault whatever to find in her, and I will gladly supervise and be present at her lessons whenever possible," Bell said. "But it seems unwise for me to teach her personally at this time." This was the extent of his explanation, which seemed to satisfy Mrs. Hubbard; perhaps she sensed what was afoot.

In any event, both she and her husband were pleased with the progress Mabel had made in Bell's classroom. They began to incorporate the bachelor professor into their busy family life at Cambridge, where he became a frequent dinner guest and enjoyed discussions with the professors who dropped by from Harvard and MIT. Bell spoke often with Gardiner Hubbard, with whom he shared interests in science and technology. Both had a particular obsession with telegraphic matters, which came up for discussion after tea on an October afternoon in 1874.

That evening, after the dishes and cups had been taken away, the family gathered around the piano. Bell, who had youthful aspirations as a concert pianist, settled onto the stool and began to play, probably a homey Scottish favorite such as "The Laird of the Cockpen" or "Loch Lomond."

As the notes of the last tune faded, Bell suddenly turned and addressed Gardiner Hubbard, who had been trying to read in the corner. "Mr. Hubbard, sir, do you know that if I depress the forte pedal and sing 'do' into the piano, the proper note will answer me? Like this?" Alec bent forward and sang the note. The piano answered. Hubbard stopped reading. Was Bell's gesture just a parlor trick? An off-duty professor's need to continue teaching? A bid to impress Mabel's father? We cannot know, but what happened next, whether contrived or spontaneous, would put Bell and Hubbard onto a common trajectory for the rest of their lives.

"And here's more," said Bell. "If two pianos in two different places were connected by a wire, and a note struck on one, the same note would respond on the other."

"And what value is there in that fact?" Hubbard asked. This principle of sympathetic vibration, Bell explained, might be applied to the telegraphic system. If the pitch of tuning forks at either end of a wire could be set to exactly the same frequency, a person could send multiple messages over a single wire. Such a device, which Bell called the multiple or harmonic telegraph, would be of inordinate value to Western Union or other carriers. Bell described how he was experimenting with the principle in his workshop. Hubbard's face lit up and he made a decision on the spot.

"Mr. Bell," he said, "I believe you have a very sound idea there, and I am willing and ready to finance it and assist you in taking out the necessary patents."

Within days, Bell and Hubbard shook hands as partners, joining a third named Thomas Sanders, a prominent Boston leather merchant. The two businessmen would support Bell's experiments and all three would share the profits. Bell hoped the money came soon. Mabel Hubbard could not know it yet, but he had determined to marry her. He kept his feelings secret and tried to focus on the multiple telegraph. Now that he had some financial backing, Bell moved his experiments from Salem to the cluttered offices of Charles Williams, Jr., at 109 Court Street in Boston, which provided electrical equipment for the city's flourishing community of technical wizards. In a corner of the attic where Thomas Edison had once worked, Bell could often be seen conferring with Thomas Watson, the laboratory assistant with whom he collaborated through the spring of 1875. It was here among the steam-powered lathes and squeaking pulleys that Bell offhandedly dropped one of his greatest ideas.

"Watson," he said, "if I can get a mechanism which will make a current of electricity vary in its intensity, as the air varies in density when a sound is passing through it, I can telegraph any sound, even the sound of speech." In less than fifty words, the inventor had crisply explained the theory behind the telephone, a device that would revolutionize business and communications, shrink the world to a fraction of its former immensity, and secure Bell's name in history. On this night, however, the idea just hung there, floating with the dust motes in the stale air, and Bell went on to more pressing work, testing his multiple telegraph. That, in the view of Gardiner Greene Hubbard, promised more than Bell's farfetched notions about "speaking" telegraphs. The problem with Bell, Hubbard concluded, was that he never focused on any particular thing, but jumped from problem to problem without ever settling on one for long enough to solve it.

Bell was a big-concept man often bored by the tedium of the laboratory, where he strung and restrung wires, changed batteries, and shaped new steel reeds for transmitters in his telegraphic work. Just as he was about to lose patience, a lucky accident led Bell away from his telegraphic experiments and on to the telephone. The decisive moment came on the night of June 2, 1875, as Bell and Watson worked in Williams's attic, divided by a partition with a transmitter on one side and a receiver on the other, the two instruments connected by wires. When a transmitter's steel reed stuck to an electromagnet on Watson's side, he idly picked at the reed to free it. On the other side, an alert Bell heard a second reed answer the first one, just as the piano wire had quivered in sympathetic response to his own voice months before. By plucking the first reed, Watson had inadvertently induced a weak current, which caused the receiving reed to vibrate at the same frequency. As so often happens with scientific discovery, this revelation came by chance. From this moment, Bell knew that he could make the wires speak.

Teaching the wires to speak was one thing-giving voice to the confused emotions of the heart was quite another, even for a professor of oratory. After a year of admiring Mabel Hubbard from afar, Bell was becoming obsessive about the girl, now seventeen. "I do not know how-or why it is that Mabel has so won my heart," he wrote that June. "Had my mind chosen-or had others chosen for me all would have been different....However, my heart has chosen for me-and I cannot but think it is for the best." Overworked and deeply repressed, Bell almost cracked under the strain that summer. At the bursting point, he finally admitted to the Hubbards that he loved their daughter. They took the news in surprisingly good stride, but neither parent wanted their daughter to know yet, given her youth and inexperience. They urged Bell to keep his secret a year or two longer and he agreed to do so. In the meantime, they made plans for Mabel to spend some weeks on Nantucket, where she would be among friends her age, away from Bell, and under the care of a trusted cousin.

After a few weeks without her, Bell could stand the separation no longer. He packed a valise, informed the protesting Hubbards of his intentions, and caught a steamer for Nantucket on August 7. There he checked into a hotel and stayed up all night pouring out his emotions in a letter to Mabel. He wrote seventeen pages. He explained why he had behaved strangely in her presence. He expressed his admiration for her parents. What did he want from her? He did not propose marriage-she was too young for that-nor did he ask that she reveal her feelings for him. He merely sought permission to approach her openly, and to spend time with her, so that she could know him better.

"You of course can see no more of me than the mere outside-and I can well understand how little there is there that can prove attractive to you," Bell wrote. "I want you to look within-I want you to know me better before you dislike me. There is much to admire-there is much to lament and deplore.... But there is a wealth of love for you. There is a heart that sympathizes with you and for you a thousand times more than you do for yourself." He closed with a pledge to stay away if that was Mabel's desire. Satisfied that he had done his best, Bell arose early the next morning, pocketed the thick letter, crossed the island to the Ocean View House, and pressed the envelope on Mabel's guardian. "Tell Mabel not to be distressed on my account," Bell said. Then he left Nantucket.

Instead of frightening Mabel away, the energy and honesty of Bell's approach touched her. She agreed to see him upon her return to the mainland that summer. They met at the Hubbard home on August 26 and went to the greenhouse alone. There, among the roses and lilies, they spoke about all that had happened. Mabel thrilled Bell by revealing that she did not dislike him. She did not love him, but she was willing to continue seeing him. That was enough for Bell, who declared that Thursday as the happiest day of his life.

In what remained of the summer, Bell visited his parents in Ontario and rested from his recent nervous strain. He was pleased to find that his father, with whom he had a rather distant relationship, now made efforts to close the gap. Bell also gave some thought to pending telegraphy projects, which had languished during his romantic crisis, and he began to think more optimistically about his prospects for the telephone, to the point of lining up sponsors to help him with foreign rights. Back in Boston, Gardiner Hubbard's patience was wearing thin. Bell returned that autumn with very little progress to show in his telegraphic work. Then he launched into his old routine of teaching at Boston University, tutoring the deaf, and lecturing all over the region. His patron snapped. "I have been sorry to see how little interest you seem to have taken in telegraph matters, & to hear that you are lecturing upon various subjects in different places," Hubbard wrote. "I hear that you were to lecture on astronomy," he charged, as if Bell's interest in the heavens was a betrayal to those on Earth. "I trust this is not true for it will be a great injury to you, & confirm the tendency of your mind to undertake every new thing that interests you & accomplish nothing of any value to any one....I will close by saying that your whole conduct since you returned has been a very great disappointment to me, & a sore trial. I am very truly Your Friend, Gardiner G. Hubbard."

Hubbard followed this note with a heavy-handed suggestion that Bell give up his lectures and forgo his plans for training instructors for the deaf. If Bell focused entirely on scientific work, Hubbard would cover all of his living expenses. However, if Bell continued teaching, Hubbard portentously suggested that this might jeopardize his future with Mabel. Hubbard's timing could not have been worse, for Bell had been under countervailing pressure from his father to spend more time teaching and less time on scientific research, which the elder Bell considered impractical and speculative. Alec erupted at Hubbard, first in a meeting, then more moderately but no less firmly in a letter.

"I do not intend to make any alteration in my profession," Bell wrote, "merely on account of any feeling or prejudice against it that may be in your mind or those of others....Should Mabel learn to love me as devotedly and truly as I love her-she will not object to any work in which I may be engaged as long as it is honorable and profitable. If she does not come to love me well enough to accept me whatever my profession or business may be-I do not want her at all." Bell rejected Hubbard's offer of payment, citing a conflict of interest. "You are Mabel's father-and I will not urge you to give-nor will I accept if offered-any pecuniary assistance whatever otherwise than what was agreed upon before my affection for Mabel was known."

The incident, which drew upon all of Bell's self-confidence and resolve, would set the tone for the often wary Hubbard-Bell relationship, which would be severely tested over the years, despite the reservoir of affection and respect the two men felt for each other. The Hubbard women, caught between the impulsive Bell and the algid Hubbard, often soothed such rough passages, as they did this time. Mabel helped to convince her father that Bell meant no disrespect by rejecting his overture. And Gertrude, seeing Mabel's exasperation at this tug-of-war between father and suitor, suggested that the time had arrived for a decision-jettison Bell or marry him.

Mabel took the initiative. When Bell came to visit on Thanksgiving in 1875-which also happened to be Mabel's eighteenth birthday-she surprised him by saying she had grown to love him as well as anyone except for her mother. They could be engaged if he liked. A flabbergasted Bell felt bound to remind Mabel of her youth, and to ask if she really meant it. She did. They agreed to be married, following an engagement that would last eighteen months.

That night, Bell wondered if the events of the day had actually occurred: "I am afraid to go to sleep," Bell wrote to Mabel, "lest I should find it all a dream-so I shall lie awake and think of you. It is so cold and selfish living all for oneself! A man is only half a man who has no one to love and cherish."

For her part, Mabel seemed as amazed as Alec, as she was now entitled to call Mr. Bell. "When Alec had gone," she wrote to an old friend just after their engagement, "I was so frightened at what I had done, I was perfectly miserable and hardly knew if I really cared for him. But as soon as I saw him again I was quite satisfied and happy and have been more so every day." By the autumn of 1875, Alec had managed, despite his romantic distractions, to draft a description of his new device for "transmitting vocal utterance telegraphically" by means of a unique principle he termed "undulatory current." Finally seeing the promise in Bell's telephone, Hubbard now urged him to perfect and patent it as quickly as possible. Bell stalled, tinkering with the patent specification through December, finally grinding out a finished version of the description for Hubbard in mid-January. After another week of delay on Bell's part, Hubbard took matters into his own hands and, without checking with the inventor, filed the patent for him on February 14, 1876, in Washington. A few days later Bell was awarded United States Patent No. 174,465 for the telephone. It would be one of the most valuable ever granted, and therefore one of the most contested. More than six hundred challenges to it were raised, including one that reached the Supreme Court. Bell won every case. The challenges would continue long after his death, but his claim to the invention remained secure.

In Bell's day, this was due largely to the vigilance of Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who had finally discovered his great role in life, to orchestrate Bell's defense in patent litigation and to organize the Bell Telephone Company, of which Hubbard would serve as the founding president. Had it not been for the meticulous and insistent Hubbard, Bell certainly would have been the poorer, his name lost to history in a fog of false starts and unfinished dreams. The Hubbard-Bell partnership, while far from the perfect union, ultimately proved a fruitful one. Hubbard found absorbing, important work to do, drawing upon his well-placed contacts in the legal and political worlds. This freed his gifted associate from the procedural details that drove Bell to distraction. The inventor saved himself for the big ideas. It is doubtful that either man would have accomplished as much without the other.

The same might be said of Bell's partnership with Mabel Hubbard, whose love for him deepened through their engagement, despite his impulsiveness, stubborn nature, and tendency to procrastinate, qualities that came to annoy Mabel as much as they had her father. Even worse was his habit of working through the night, which by now had become essential to him. Mabel never liked it, but she accepted it, just as she learned to appreciate the other attributes of this odd, tender man. "Every day I see something new in him to love and admire," she wrote. "It is wonderful that he should be so clever...so utterly without conceit of any kind, so very true, and as thoughtful for others as a woman, far more so than I."

They were married in July of 1877 in the house where Alec sat at the piano and demonstrated the principle of sympathetic vibration almost two years before. As a wedding gift, the agnostic Alec presented Mabel with a pearl crucifix. Even though she could not hear, she bought him a piano and asked that he play for her each day. Alec also signed over most of his stock in the Bell Telephone Company to Mabel, giving her ownership of one-third of the company. The Hubbard and Bell families were joined not only in holy matrimony but also in business.

It would become a lucrative enterprise, of course, but the first years of the telephone company were tense ones, as Hubbard fended off competitors at home and abroad, defended Alec's invention, fell into debt, and fought with his son-in-law over their increasingly complicated financial affairs. Both families struggled through the anxious two years after Alec and Mabel were married. By 1879 Hubbard, fifty-seven, could finally see brighter days ahead. "Eighteen months ago," he wrote to Gertrude, "I knew not where to beg or borrow one hundred dollars....It does seem as though the good time might really come at last. I wished several times last night that we were ten years younger and might have that much more time to enjoy it."

To keep an eye on the continuing legal challenges to Bell's patent-and to escape winters in Boston-he prevailed upon the rest of the family to relocate to Washington. There he proceeded to make the most of the time remaining to him. He settled into semiretirement, thinking big, spending big, and living big. Both families moved into the leafy neighborhood near Dupont Circle, where Hubbard indulged his love of books, assembled a French wine cellar, and displayed his growing collection of etchings and engravings, with a particular emphasis on Napoleonic works. The family also bought an eighteen-acre estate in the hills outside of Washington, where the elevation provided views of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains and relief from the summer heat. They called the place Twin Oaks, for the stately giants guarding their porch. Gertrude Hubbard oversaw the garden, which sprawled around the orchid house they had disassembled in Cambridge and rebuilt at Twin Oaks, brick for brick.

As was expected of an educated man of this era, Hubbard immersed himself in scientific study and conversation. He fell into easy friendship with the community of scientists and explorers who flocked to Washington after the Civil War to fill new government bureaus. Many of these people became regular guests at the Hubbards' dinner table, among them Brig. Gen. Adolphus W. Greely, who established the first international weather station on Ellesmere Island in 1881; Simon Newcomb, an astronomer and economist who might drop by for an animated talk about the promise of manned flight; Andrew White, diplomat and educator, who consulted Hubbard about his plans for a new college called Cornell University; and Spencer Baird, zoologist and secretary of the new Smithsonian Museum. He invited Hubbard to join the Smithsonian's board of regents.

Many of the scientists around Hubbard's table brought colorful histories with them. More than mere academics, they had been tempered by experience in the harsh world. None of this breed was more notable than Hubbard's friend John Wesley Powell, the scrawny, one-armed army major with a bulbous nose, a tobacco-stained beard, and a face creased by years of hard seasoning. By the time Powell was fifty, he had survived the Civil War, explored the Colorado River Basin, and founded the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology. Like other scientists of this era, Powell put great emphasis on fieldwork and careful observation. Through Hubbard, Powell established a firm friendship with Alexander Graham Bell and the other newcomers who were transforming Washington from a sleepy prewar village into the capital of a nation fixated on science.

Bell continued inventing. With the help of his cousin Chichester Bell, he spent several years trying to perfect the photophone, a wireless device that transmitted sound on a concentrated beam of light and anticipated laser technology by many decades. He went on to other experiments, such as improving upon Thomas Edison's phonograph. He also perfected an audiometer, which measured hearing ability in standard increments of sound intensity; these measurements became known as decibels, a word that still honors the inventor's name. He even devised a hastily built induction balance to search for the assassin's bullet buried in President James A. Garfield, whom Bell could not save.

Bell had invented the telephone at age twenty-nine. Now in his mid-thirties, he wondered whether that would be his last great achievement. This kept him striving in the laboratory, making public appearances, writing articles for technical journals, and acting as a patron for other scientific enterprises. He helped finance the physics experiments of Albert A. Michelson, who became America's first Nobel laureate for science in 1907. And Bell joined Hubbard to support Science, a struggling young weekly that ultimately gave both men an expensive lesson in the uncertain economics of magazine publishing.

Science magazine had been born in 1880, wobbled through its infancy, and almost died in 1882. Bell agreed to buy the journal for $5,000, but he had no intention of publishing it without changes. He suspended publication for a year, conferred with Hubbard, and the two men decided to relaunch Science as a lively weekly equivalent of Nature, the venerable British magazine. They hired a new editor named Samuel H. Scudder, a prominent entomologist and assistant librarian at Harvard. He not only had scientific credentials but his middle name was Hubbard-he was Gardiner's cousin. Bell agreed to hire him and put up $25,000 to carry the reincarnated Science through its first year.

Despite its quality and high standing in the scientific community, the magazine sputtered along, starved for advertising and readers, never crossing the threshold of the six thousand subscribers it needed to climb out of debt. After several years of losses, Bell and Hubbard sold the magazine for $25 in 1891. Bell had lost $60,000 on the enterprise, Hubbard, $20,000. Taken over in 1894 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the magazine finally began to thrive. "I think it looks as if Science may now go & be good for something," Hubbard wrote Bell in 1892. This time the magazine's godfather was right. Science, still the flagship publication of the AAAS, remains the premier science weekly in the U.S.

The most notable aspect of Bell and Hubbard's joint publishing venture, given their stormy history, was the pacific quality of the experience. Despite Science's significant cost and disappointing result, they remained friendly throughout their work on it. By this time each man had mellowed enough to enjoy the other's trust and affection

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What People are saying about this

Geoffrey C. Ward
Explorer's House is a delight, a vivid, elegantly written chronicle of the iconic institution that for more than a century has helped millions of Americans understand-and sometimes misunderstand-their world. It is a story with enough unexpected twists and turns and exotic characters to rival any of the expeditions mounted by the National Geographic, and in telling it, Robert M. Poole proves himself an ideal guide: sure-footed, supremely knowledgeable, and eager to share all he knows.
Paul Theroux
This book delighted me. It is much more than the story of a magazine. It is a wonderfully subtle and exhaustive-and even shocking-portrait of an age and of an institution that is at times more Byzantine than American. It is also the history of a very big and very bossy family.
Bill Bryson
Fascinating from beginning to end. It would be hard to imagine a more thorough and absorbing history of a great institution.
Poole is not…blinkered by his association with the publication and writes candidly…Combined with his insight to what has editorially made the yellow-bordered icon one of the most successful in the magazine industry, that frankness ensures the work against becoming a dreary institutional history.
Charles McCarry
Robert M. Poole's wonderful history of National Geographic teems with delights-Whistlerian portraits of the eccentric amateurs who made the magazine, stirring tales from the Brigadoon that is its headquarters, even moments of darkness resulting from power struggles, broken friendships, and the recent intrusion into the sunny kingdom of realists with M.B.A.s who do not understand that the Geographic's stock-in-trade is its incurable enthusiasm for the world and all that is in it. Poole's deft pen, insider's knowledge, and keen eye for the telling detail make more than a century of the magazine's history fly by. Readers will want to keep this book just as the Geographic's forty million monthly readers save every issue of the magazine, as something to go back to, something to trust, something for their children.
Peter Benchley
At last, someone has ripped away the veneer of spun sugar and told the truth about the National Geographic Society. And who better for the job than Bob Poole-twenty-year veteran insider, superb writer and diligent researcher? Explorers House is fascinating and important, an honest account of the rise and fall of an American icon.
Caroline Alexander
In this amusing and highly readable account, Bob Poole explores the history of the family and institution that has explored so much of Planet Earth. While giving the grand sweep of this grand enterprise, Explorer's House is ultimately made memorable by the telling details that could only have been available to an affectionate, but watchful insider. A great journey.
author of The Bounty and The Endurance

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