Category archives for National Geographic Founders
At one point on their June 1875 expedition, National Geographic founder Rogers Birnie and his men rode 38 miles without a drop of water for themselves or a blade of grass for their animals. They barely got their animals across. One of them died, and others had been without water for 48 hours. One lesson Birnie always remembered about Death Valley: Don’t bring animals. There was never enough water for both animals and men.
In 1881 National Geographic founder Frank Baker was one of the numerous scientific men involved in the treatment of President James A. Garfield, who had been shot in July by a would-be assassin. No one knew for certain where the bullet had finally lodged. For over two months Garfield lingered on his deathbed while doctors sought some means of finding and removing the slug. Dr. Baker drew up a diagram that proved to be remarkably accurate. However, Dr. D. Willard Bliss, the physician in charge, was adamantly opposed to second opinions, and Baker did not press to have his theory presented. At the same time, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, tried to locate the projectile using a magnet, while George Kennan, a young journalist, was in charge of all the telegraphic reports describing the President’s condition that were sent out to the world . But it was all to no avail, and President Garfield died in September.
Geographer Samuel Gannett helped found the National Geographic Society, but he may be better remembered for his work settling boundary disputes. One of his surveys led to a 1930 Supreme Court decision that allowed Texas to take back over 85,000 acres from Oklahoma.
Henry Mitchell was a charming man with the gift of conversation and a sense of humor. Though the details of his profession–hydrography–may have been lost on his friends, his status among his peers could not have been higher. In his prime, Mitchell was one of the most respected figures in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, oldest of the government’s scientific bureaus. He was also one of the principal founders of the National Geographic Society.
In late 1872, Dr. William H. Dall was in San Francisco preparing to return to Alaska, where he had been directing a geographical reconnaissance of the Aleutian Islands. Unfortunately, his former assistant was not returning with him, and Dall despaired of finding another who would willingly undertake a difficult project that might last several years. Happily, Dall soon found just the man, a young graduate of the University of Michigan named Marcus Baker. Baker had never even seen the sea before. But the two men went on to complete the work, becoming fast friends, and eventually they helped found the National Geographic Society.
Despite William Dall’s reputation in scientific circles of the day, his memory is now largely forgotten, but his legacy lives on in the wealth of plants, animals, and places bearing his name: Ovis dalli, the majestic Dall sheep, as well as the Dall River, a tributary of the Yukon, and hundreds upon hundreds of mollusks.
The thirty-three founders of the National Geographic Society were an adventurous and accomplished group. They included scientists, explorers, a journalist and a superintendent of the National Zoo. In recognition of the National Geographic Society’s upcoming 125th anniversary this series takes a look at their stories. By Mark Collins Jenkins Though in no sense an ordinary…
For National Geographic Society founder Cleveland Abbe, a childhood interest in weather grew into the firm conviction that there must be a better way of forecasting than relying on “local lore and weather proverbs.” Abbe put scientific meteorology on the map, and even non-scientists became familiar with his predictions, including Mark Twain — although the writer had less-than-flattering things to say about Abbe’s forecasting abilities.
Self-effacing, loath to talk about himself or his accomplishments — to this day Henry Gannett remains a man of reports, statistics, and above all, maps. But his colleagues thought highly of him, so much so that when Gannett was elected the president of the National Geographic Society in 1910, the eminent geologist G.K. Gilbert wrote “…to congratulate the N.G.S. that it has at last put to the fore the man whose brain conceived it.”
John Wesley Powell was 5’6″, had only one arm, and wore a beard described as “tumultuous.” His own sister considered him the homeliest man she had ever seen. Nevertheless, this National Geographic Society founder was a celebrated explorer, contributing to the sciences of geomorphology and cultural anthropology, and proclaimed a land ethic so revolutionary in its implications that it was decades ahead of its time.