National Geographic

National Geographic logo

Michael Swarr, VP of Postal and Distribution Affairs, talks about the evolution of National Geographic Magazine.

The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.

Magazine History

Women sealing and mailing envelopes at the NGS Eckington Building.
Women sealing and mailing envelopes at the NGS Eckington Building.
Women sealing and mailing envelopes at the NGS Eckington

National Geographic Magazine started publication in October 1888 as the official journal of the National Geographic Society, a nonprofit dedicated to funding science and exploration across the planet. Since then, National Geographic has grown to become one of the most iconic brands in the world. The magazine reaches around 60 million readers worldwide each month. Following in the footsteps of the magazine, the brand has expanded to include the National Geographic Channel, and a social footprint that touches more than 30 million people. The magazine has a celebrated history as an innovative place for photography — from creating the first photographic survey of the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere to making the first color photographs undersea, and it continues to push technological and creative boundaries. Over time, the magazine has redefined itself as a committed outlet for world-class photojournalism, documenting the wonders of the planet and tackling serious issues around environmental and human rights.

Krueger Ringier's Mail Room- National Geographic Magazine Envelope
Krueger Ringier's Mail Room- National Geographic Magazine Envelope
Krueger Ringier's Mail Room- National Geographic
Magazine Envelope

Today, National Geographic is expanding the scope of its visual storytelling, experimenting with digital experiences to find new ways of documenting the world and of allowing readers to interact with content. In addition to its leadership in photographic technology and storytelling, over the course of its history the magazine’s images have documented numerous discoveries and expeditions (many funded by the National Geographic Society), from the first American ascent of Everest to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey’s work with primates in Africa to Jacques Cousteau’s dives and James Cameron’s historic solo descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 2012. It has been a window on the world for generations of readers, and its photographic archives comprise 11.5 million images, including vintage glass-plate negatives and rare Kodachrome transparencies. The magazine is currently published in English and 40 local-language editions. It is also available on digital newsstands.

Michael Swarr talks about the importance of the cover of the magazine. 

Hans Wegner, retired manufacturing and distribution team and National
Geographic Society Sustainability Team, talks about the history of the magazine. 


112 Years of Real Involvement

January 13, 1888

Thirty-three founding members meet at the Cosmos Club, creating a society for the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge.

October 1888

National Geographic started their publication.


First National Geographic Society-sponsored expedition maps Mount St. Elias region, Alaska; discovers Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak.

January 7, 1898

Alexander Graham Bell assumes National Geographic Society’s presidency.

April 6, 1909

Robert E. Peary is first to reach North Pole in National Geographic Society-supported expedition.


National Geographic Society-supported expeditions led by Hiram Bingham excavate Machu Picchu, lost mountaintop city of the Inca, in the Peruvian Andes.


Gilbert H. Grosvenor becomes President of National Geographic Society (through 1954).


National Geographic staff photographers Charles Martin and scientist W.H. Longley make first natural-color underwater pictures.

November 29, 1929

Richard E. Byrd achieves man’s flight over South Pole; photographs 60,000 square miles of Antarctica from the air.


Melville Bell Grosvenor makes first published natural-color aerial photographs.


National Geographic Society opens its storehouse of photographs, maps, and other cartographic data to President Roosevelt and the U.S. armed forces to aid war efforts.

October 1952

The magazine publishes first of many undersea articles by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

August 1956

The magazine publishes deepest undersea photographs made to date, from 25,000 feet down in mid-Atlantic Romanche Trench.

September 1960

National Geographic reports discovery of manlike Zinjanthropus, more than 1,750,000 years old, by Louis and Mary Leakey.


Jane Goodall begins study of chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream Park using National Geographic funds

June 1962

John Glenn carries National Geographic Society flag on first U.S. orbital space flight.

May 1963

First Americans conquer Mount Everest in National Geographic Society-supported expedition.

September 1965

National geographic Society launches on CBS with its first Special “Americans On Everest.” This show provides the first moving pictures from the summit of Mount Everest.

December 1965

“Miss Goodall and the World of Chimpanzees” introduces the television-viewing audience to Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees.


Dian Fossey begins long-term National Geographic Society-funded study of mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

July 1969

Apollo 11 astronauts carry National Geographic Society flag to moon.

October 1978

National Geographic reports sign-language skills of Koko the gorilla, following six years of National Geographic Society-funded training by Francine Patterson.

April 1979

Mary Leakey reports discovery of 3.6 million-year-old footprints believed to be from the slow-walking ancestors of modern man, in the volcanic ash of a riverbed in Tanzania.

January 1980

“Dive to the Edge of Creation” introduces Dr. Robert Ballard to TV screens on an early, dangerous descent in a submersible, as he plunges down more than a mile and a half into the sea and becomes the first to view an ecosystem that thrives without light at the bottom of the ocean. He later employs similar technology to find the Titanic.


Undersea archeology pioneer George F. Bass, supported by the Society, discovers most extensive collection of Bronze Age trade goods ever found beneath the sea, in a 3,400 year-old shipwreck off southern Turkey.


National eographic Society launches Geography Education Program, with goal of improving geography instruction in school systems.

September 1985

Results of R.M.S. Titanic discovery announced at National Geographic Society by Robert D. Ballard.

May 1, 1986

Six members of Steger International Polar Expedition—including one woman—are first to reach North Pole by dog sled without resupply since Peary in 1909.

October 1986

Senior Associate Editor Joseph Judge reports after years of study that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World at Samana Cay in the Bahamas.

January 1989

National Geographic Bee program is launched, to create greater geographic awareness among students.

January 1993

Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago announces discovery of the world’s earliest dinosaur in a news conference at Society headquarters.


Polar Explorer Will Steger leads five-person, 1200 mile journey from Russia to Canada across the Arctic Ocean. The expedition makes telecommunications history by communicating daily with millions worldwide via the Internet and sending the first digital images from the North Pole.

September 1997

National Geographic Channels Worldwide launches an international television channel in Australia and the United Kingdom.

March 1998

Expeditions Council is created. In its first year, it contributes almost $1 million to fun expeditions to some of the most fascinating, little-known places on earth.

May 1998

Midway expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard discovers U.S.S. Yorktown.

June 1998

National Geographic announces discovery of fossil dinosaurs in China that have distinct feathers, cementing the relationship between dinosaurs and birds.

November 1998

Paul Sereno and colleagues announced the discovery of a huge predatory dinosaur in the Sahara in the Republic of Niger in West Africa. Named Suchomimus tenerensis, but commonly known as the Spinosaurus, the dinosaur had a skill like a crocodile, foot-long thumb and specialized in eating fish.

January 1999

A team led by Ian Baker discovers a secret waterfall of the Tsangpo Gorge in southern Tibet. A myth since the 19th century, Hidden Falls measurers 115 feet in height, and was kept secret by the Monpa hunters for hundreds of years, due to the sacredness of the area, and its value as a place of pilgrimage.

March 1999

High-altitude archaeologist Johan Reinhard discovers three frozen mummies and exquisite Inca artifacts in a grave atop Argentina’s Mount Llullaillaco, the world’s highest archaeological site.

September 2000

Explorer-in Residence Robert Ballard finds evidence of human habitation 300 feet below the surface of the Black Sea, lending credibility to “Noah’s Flood” theory.

January 2001

National Geographic Channel launches on cable and satellite television in the United States.

Michael Swarr talks about the distribution process. 

Hans Wegner talks about the advertising of the magazine. 

Michael Swarr talks about the changes the magazine has and will face.