Compass

Jan. 27, 1888: Scientists and explorers found National Geographic Society

Compass

The National Geographic Society is an iconic presence in America. Few institutions have had as much impact on our ideas about the rest of the world. But it had small beginnings, when 33 of the nation’s foremost explorers and scientists met at a Washington, D.C. club to form a society dedicated to expanding knowledge of, and interest in, geography.

The organization’s stated purpose is "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical, and natural resources." It primarily accomplishes that by funding expeditions to find out more about the human and natural worlds. Among those its has supported: Robert Peary, Amelia Earhart, Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall. The society brings that knowledge directly to people by funding exhibitions at museums and science centers.

But perhaps its biggest impact has come from its publishing arm, whose magazine (first printed a mere nine months after the society’s founding), books, maps and educational materials have introduced generations to unfamiliar cultures and places. National Geographic also set a high bar for travel photography.

These days, an estimated 360 million people around the world see the society’s various materials each month via print, Internet and TV. Beyond piquing interest in science and geography, it inspires people to do their own exploring in the form of travel to new places.

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