National Geographic

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National Geographic
March 2017 cover of National Geographic
March 2017 cover of National Geographic
EditorNathan Lump[1]
CategoriesGeography, history, nature, science, world culture
Total circulation
6.1 million (global)[2]
FoundedJanuary 13, 1888; 135 years ago (1888-01-13)
First issueSeptember 22, 1888; 134 years ago (1888-09-22)
CountryUnited States
Based inWashington, D.C.
LanguageEnglish and various other languages

National Geographic (formerly The National Geographic Magazine,[3] sometimes branded as NAT GEO[4]) is an American monthly magazine published by National Geographic Partners.[5] The magazine was founded in 1888 as a scholarly journal, nine months after the establishment of the society, but is now a popular magazine. In 1905, it began including pictures, a style for which it became well-known. Its first color photos appeared in the 1910s. During the Cold War, the magazine committed itself to present a balanced view of the physical and human geography of countries beyond the Iron Curtain. Later, the magazine became outspoken on environmental issues. Since 2019, controlling interest has been held by The Walt Disney Company.

Topics of features generally concern geography, history, nature, science, and world culture. The magazine is well known for its distinctive appearance: a thick square-bound glossy format with a yellow rectangular border. Map supplements from National Geographic Maps are included with subscriptions, and it is available in a traditional printed edition and an interactive online edition.

As of 1995, the magazine was circulated worldwide in nearly forty local-language editions and had a global circulation of at least 6.5 million per month (down from about 12 million in the late 1980s), including 3.5 million within the U.S.[6][7] As of October 2022, it's Instagram page has 243 million followers, the most of any account not belonging to an individual celebrity.[8] As of 2015, the magazine had won 25 National Magazine Awards.[9]


Front cover from the first edition of The National Geographic Magazine c. September 1888

The "National Geographic Society" has been organized to "increase and defuse geographic knowledge", and the publication of a Magazine has been determined upon as one means accomplishing these purposes.

— Gardiner G. Hubbard (From the first issue of The National Geographic Magazine)[10]f

The first issue of the National Geographic Magazine was published on September 22, 1888, nine months after the Society was founded. It was initially a scholarly journal sent to 165 charter members; currently, it reaches the hands of 40 million people each month.[11] Starting with its January 1905 publication of several full-page pictures of Tibet in 1900–01, the magazine from being a text-oriented publication to featuring extensive pictorial content. By 1908 more than half of the magazine's pages were photographs. The June 1985 cover portrait of a 12-year-old Afghan girl Sharbat Gula, shot by photographer Steve McCurry, became one of the magazine's most recognizable images.[12]

National Geographic Kids, the children's version of the magazine, was launched in 1975 under the name National Geographic World.

In the late 1990s, the magazine began publishing The Complete National Geographic, an electronic collection of every past issue of the magazine. It was then sued over copyright of the magazine as a collective work in Greenberg v. National Geographic and other cases, and temporarily withdrew the compilation. The magazine eventually prevailed in the dispute, and in July 2009 resumed publishing all past issues through December 2008. More recent issues were later added to the collection; the archive and electronic edition of the magazine are available online to the magazine's subscribers.[13]

In September 2015, the National Geographic Society moved the magazine to National Geographic Partners, in which 21st Century Fox held a 73% controlling interest.[14] In December 2017, a deal was announced for Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox, including the interest in National Geographic Partners.[15] The acquisition was completed in March 2019.[16] NG Media publishing unit was operationally transferred into Disney Publishing Worldwide.[17]



The magazine had a single "editor" from 1888 to 1920. From 1920 to 1967, the chief editorship was held by the president of the National Geographic Society. Since 1967, the magazine has been overseen by its own "editor" and/or "editor-in-chief". The list of editors-in-chief includes three generations of the Grosvenor family between 1903 and 1980.[18]

  • Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor (1875–1966): (Editor-in-Chief: February 1903– January 1920; Managing Editor: September 1900 – February 1903; Assistant Editor: May 1899 – September 1900)
  • John Oliver La Gorce (1879–1959): (May 1954 – January 1957) (president of the society at the same time)
  • Melville Bell Grosvenor (1901–1982): (January 1957 – August 1967) (president of the society at the same time) (thereafter editor-in-chief to 1977)
  • Frederick Vosburgh (1905–2005): (August 1967 – October 1970)
  • Gilbert Melville Grosvenor (born 1931): (October 1970 – July 1980) (then became president of the society)
  • Wilbur E. Garrett: (July 1980 – April 1990)
  • William Graves: (April 1990 – December 1994)
  • William L. Allen: (January 1995 – January 2005)
  • Chris Johns: (January 2005 – April 2014) (first "editor-in-chief" since MBG)
  • Susan Goldberg: (April 2014 – April 2022)[1][19][20]
  • Nathan Lump: (May 2022 – present)[21]


Color photograph of the Taj Mahal. Source: The National Geographic Magazine, March 1921

During the Cold War, the magazine committed itself to present a balanced view of the physical and human geography of countries beyond the Iron Curtain. The magazine printed articles on Berlin, de-occupied Austria, the Soviet Union, and Communist China that deliberately downplayed politics to focus on culture. In its coverage of the Space Race, National Geographic focused on the scientific achievement while largely avoiding reference to the race's connection to nuclear arms buildup. There were also many articles in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s about the individual states and their resources, along with supplementary maps of each state. Many of these articles were written by longtime staff such as Frederick Simpich.[22]

After 21st Century Fox acquired controlling interest in the magazine, articles became outspoken on issues such as environmental issues, deforestation, chemical pollution, global warming, and endangered species. Series of articles were included focusing on the history and varied uses of specific products such as a single metal, gem, food crop, or agricultural product, or an archaeological discovery. Occasionally an entire month's issue would be devoted to a single country, past civilization, a natural resource whose future is endangered, or other themes. In recent decades, the National Geographic Society has unveiled other magazines with different focuses. Whereas the magazine featured lengthy expositions in the past, recent issues have shorter articles.[23]


The first issue of The National Geographic Magazine featuring the oak leaf perimeter and yellow border. c. February 1910

In addition to being well known for articles about scenery, history, and the most distant corners of the world, the magazine has been recognized for its book-like quality and its standard of photography. It was during the tenure of Society President Alexander Graham Bell and editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor (GHG) that the significance of illustration was first emphasized, in spite of criticism from some of the Board of Managers who considered the many illustrations an indicator of an "unscientific" conception of geography. By 1910, photographs had become the magazine's trademark and Grosvenor was constantly on the search for "dynamical pictures" as Graham Bell called them, particularly those that provided a sense of motion in a still image. In 1915, GHG began building the group of staff photographers and providing them with advanced tools including the latest darkroom.[24]

The magazine began to feature some pages of color photography in the early 1930s, when this technology was still in its early development. During the mid-1930s, Luis Marden (1913–2003), a writer and photographer for National Geographic, convinced the magazine to allow its photographers to use the so-called "miniature" 35 mm Leica cameras loaded with Kodachrome film over bulkier cameras with heavy glass plates that required the use of tripods.[24] In 1959, the magazine started publishing small photographs on its covers, later becoming larger photographs. National Geographic photography quickly shifted to digital photography for both its printed magazine and its website. In subsequent years, the cover, while keeping its yellow border, shed its oak leaf trim and bare table of contents, to allow for a full page photograph taken for one of the month's articles. Issues of National Geographic are often kept by subscribers for years and re-sold at thrift stores as collectibles. The standard for photography has remained high over the subsequent decades and the magazine is still illustrated with some of the highest-quality photojournalism in the world.[25] In 2006, National Geographic began an international photography competition, with over eighteen countries participating.[26]


Map supplements[edit]

A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams.

Supplementing the articles, the magazine sometimes provides maps of the regions visited.[28] National Geographic Maps (originally the Cartographic Division) became a division of the National Geographic Society in 1915. The first supplement map, which appeared in the May 1918 issue of the magazine, titled The Western Theatre of War, served as a reference for overseas military personnel and soldiers' families alike.[29] On some occasions, the Society's map archives have been used by the United States government in instances where its own cartographic resources were limited.[30] President Franklin D. Roosevelt's White House map room was filled with National Geographic maps. A National Geographic map of Europe is featured in the displays of the Winston Churchill museum in London showing Churchill's markings at the Yalta Conference where the Allied leaders divided post-war Europe.[31]

In 2001, National Geographic released an eight-CD-ROM set containing all its maps from 1888 to December 2000. Printed versions are also available from the National Geographic website.[32]

Language editions[edit]


In April 1995, National Geographic began publishing in Japanese, its first local language edition.[33] The magazine is currently published in 29 local editions around the world.[34][22]

First Ukrainian National Geographic magazine presentation
Eliza R. Scidmore was the first woman to photograph for The Magazine. Japanese people. 1914.
National Geographic English editions from 2015
Active language editions
Language Country Website Editor-in-chief First issue
English United States Nathan Lump
October 1888
English United Kingdom
January 2018
Arabic Hussain AlMoosawi
October 2010
Bulgarian Bulgaria Krassimir Drumev
November 2005
Chinese Chinese mainland Tianrang Mai
July 2007
Chinese Taiwan Yungshih Lee
January 2001
Croatian Croatia Hrvoje Prćić
November 2003
Czech Tomáš Tureček
October 2002
Dutch Robbert Vermue
October 2000
French France Catherine Ritchie
October 1999
Georgian Georgia Natia Khuluzauri
October 2012
German Werner Siefer
October 1999
Hungarian Hungary Tamás Vitray
March 2003
Hebrew Israel Idit Elnatan
June 1998
Indonesian Indonesia Didi Kaspi Kasim
April 2005
Italian Italy Marco Cattaneo
February 1998
Japanese Japan Shigeo Otsuka
April 1995
Kazakh Kazachstan Yerkin Zhakipov
February 2016
Korean South Korea Junemo Kim
January 2000
Lithuanian Lithuania Frederikas Jansonas
October 2009
Polish Poland Agnieszka Franus
October 1999
Portuguese Portugal Gonçalo Pereira
April 2001
Serbian Milana Petrović
November 2006
Slovene Slovenia Marija Javornik
April 2006
Spanish Latin America Alicia Guzmán
November 1997
Spanish Mexico Alicia Guzmán
May 2018
Spanish Spain Gonçalo Pereira
October 1997
Thai Thailand Kowit Phadungruangkij
August 2001


The following local-language editions have been discontinued.[22]

Discontinued language editions
Language Country Website First issue Last issue #
Mongolian Mongolia
October 2012
June 2014
Greek Greece
October 1998
December 2014
Ukrainian Ukraine
  • October 2003
  • April 2013
  • January 2006
  • January 2015
Azerbaijani Azerbaijan
September 2014
December 2015
Latvian Latvia
October 2012
March 2016
Farsi Iran
  • November 2012
  • September 2017
  • February 2018
  • June 2017
  • December 2017
  • September 2018
Portuguese Brazil
May 2000
November 2019
Danish Denmark
September 2000
December 2020
Norwegian Norway
September 2000
December 2020
Swedish Sweden
September 2000
December 2020
Finnish Finland
January 2001
December 2020
Romanian[35] Romania
May 2003
December 2021
Estonian Estonia
October 2011
December 2021
English India
August 2013
December 2021
Russian Russia
October 2003
April 2022
Turkish Turkey
May 2001
June 2022

In association with Trends Publications in Beijing and IDG Asia, National Geographic has been authorized for "copyright cooperation" in China to publish the yellow-border magazine, which launched with the July 2007 issue of the magazine with an event in Beijing on July 10, 2007, and another event on December 6, 2007, in Beijing also celebrating the 29th anniversary of normalization of U.S.–China relations featuring former President Jimmy Carter. The mainland China version is one of the two local-language editions that bump the National Geographic logo off its header in favor of a local-language logo; the other one is the Persian version published under the name Gita Nama.[36]

Worldwide editions are sold on newsstands in addition to regular subscriptions. In several countries, such as Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine, National Geographic paved the way for a subscription model in addition to traditional newsstand sales.In the United States, newsstand sales began in 1998; previously, membership in the National Geographic Society was the only way to receive the magazine.[37]


On May 1, 2008, National Geographic won three National Magazine Awards—an award solely for its written content—in the reporting category for an article by Peter Hessler on the Chinese economy; an award in the photojournalism category for work by John Stanmeyer on malaria in the Third World; and a prestigious award for general excellence.[38]

Between 1980 and 2011 the magazine has won a total of 24 National Magazine Awards.[39]

In May 2006, 2007, and 2011 National Geographic magazine won the American Society of Magazine Editors' General Excellence Award in the over two million circulation category. In 2010, National Geographic Magazine received the top ASME awards for photojournalism and essay. In 2011, National Geographic Magazine received the top-award from ASME—the Magazine of the Year Award.

In April 2014, National Geographic received the National Magazine Award ("Ellie") for best tablet edition for its multimedia presentation of Robert Draper's story "The Last Chase," about the final days of a tornado researcher who was killed in the line of duty.[40]

In February 2017, National Geographic received the National Magazine Award ("Ellie") for best website.[41]National Geographic won the 2020 Webby Award for News & Magazines in the category Apps, Mobile & Voice.[42] National Geographic won the 2020 Webby Award and Webby People's Voice Award for Magazine in the category Web.[42]


On the magazine's February 1982 cover, the pyramids of Giza were altered, resulting in the first major scandal of the digital photography age and contributing to photography's "waning credibility".[43]

The cover of the October 1988 issue featured a photo of a large ivory male portrait whose authenticity, particularly the alleged Ice Age provenance, has been questioned.[44]

In 1999, the magazine was embroiled in the Archaeoraptor scandal, in which it purported to have a fossil linking birds to dinosaurs. The fossil was a forgery.[45]

In 2010, the magazine's Your Shot competition was awarded to American filmmaker and photographer William Lascelles for a photograph presented as a portrait of a dog with fighter jets flying over its shoulder. Will Lascelles had, in reality, created the image using photo editing software.[46]

In March 2018, the editor of National Geographic, Susan Goldberg, said that historically the magazine's coverage of people around the world had been racist. Goldberg stated that the magazine ignored non-white Americans and showed different groups as exotic, thereby promoting racial clichés.[47]

List of National Geographic milestones[edit]

This is a List of National Geographic Milestones featuring turning points in the magazine's history including writing and photography assignments, design aspects, cartography and sponsored expeditions.[48][12][49]

  Writing and photography   Cartography   Sponsored expeditions   Design   Social / other

Writing and photography[edit]

Writing and photography
Year Milestone Notes Ref
  1888 First publication The first issue of The National Geographic Magazinea was published in October of 1888 for the cost of fifty cents (USD), with an introductory address by the President of the magazine, Gardiner G. Hubbard.
  1890 First photograph of a natural scene The first photograph of a natural scene was that of Herald Island in the Arctic, photographed by Assistant Paymaster J. Q. Lovell (USN) aboard the USS Thetis in the July issue of 1890.
  1908 Photography More than half of the magazine's pages are photographs
  1914 First color photograph The first color photograph to appear in the magazine (Autochrome) was in the July 1914 issue, that of a flower garden in Ghent, Belgium photographed by Paul G. Guillumette.
  1914 First color photograph The first color photograph to appear in the magazine (Autochrome) was in the July 1914 issue, that of a flower garden in Ghent, Belgium photographed by Paul G. Guillumette.
  1914 First article written by a female author The first article written by a female was published in the July 1914 issue by Eliza R. Scidmore, an account of Japan's youth titled Young Japan.
  1914 First photograph by a female The first image photographed (only the second in color, the first being in the same issue) by a female was in the July 1914 issue by Eliza R. Scidmore, that of a young Japanese boy gazing at a chicken and her newborn hatchlings.
  1926 First natural photos underwater The first natural underwater photograph was published in the January 1927 issue depicting a Hogfish in the Florida Keys. The pictures were photographed by Charles Martin and W. H. Longley.e
  1930 First natural-color Aerial photographs Melville Bell Grosvenor captures the first published natural-color aerial photographs. The photo was taken aboard a Detroit ZMC-2 U.S. Navy airship and featured the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The publication was in the September 1930 issue of the magazine.
  1938 Use of 35mm film The first use of 35 mm film, produced by Kodak under the brand Kodachrome, was published in the April 1938 issue. The photographs were captured by Bob Moore, that of Austrian dancers and would be the preferred film stock for decades.
  1959 First photo on the cover The first photograph on the magazine cover was on the July 1959 issue, a depiction of the 49-star flag of the United States after Alaska's induction into the United States, taken by B. Anthony Stewart.
  1960 1,750,000 years old discovery Louis and Mary Leakey report on the discovery of Zinjanthropus, a more than 1,750,000 years old man-like species in the Hominin family. Published in the September issue of the magazine.
  1970 Stronger photojournalism After astronauts took one of the first color full-disk photos of Earth from space in 1968, Gordon Young wrote an article highlighting the state of pollution on the planet. The article was published in the December 1970 issue, photographed by James P. Blair and marked a shift away from attractive photos and towards photo-journalistically stronger images.
  1985 Afghan Girl Steve McCurry took the photo that was featured on the June 1985 issue of the magazine, that of Afghan Girl, a twelve year old Afghan refugee in Pakistan named Sharbat Gula. She had green eyes and her picture would become the most recognized photo from National Geographic.
  1985 RMS Titanic After the Titanic was found in the Atlantic Ocean by Robert Ballard, he wrote the cover story for the December 1985 issue of the magazine titled "How we found the Titanic", documenting his experience.
  2002 Afghan Girl found Seventeen years after her portrait appeared on the cover, Sharbat Gula, the Afghan Girl, was found at the age of twenty nine in the mountains of Afghanistan. Her name was not known until this time
  2003 First all digital photography in an article The first all-digital photography within an article was titled "The Future of Flying", published in the December 2003 issue by Michael Klesius and photographed by Joe McNally The cover story showcased the F/A-22 Raptor.


Writing and photography
Year Milestone Notes Ref
  1889 First photograph and first map The first photograph was in the second ever published issue, depicting a topographic relief map of Africa, in the April 1889 issue by Herbert G. Ogden.
  1889 First fold out map The first fold-out map was published in the October 1889 issue depicting the Meadow Creek Mountains in Tennessee along the French Broad River to Asheville, North Carolina.
  1890 First map of a hurricane The first map of a hurricane was a drawing published in the May 1890 issue. It was a depiction of the September 1888 Atlantic hurricanes.d
  1891 First color map The first color map was a reproduction of South America by Dodd, Mead & Company, Publishers.


Writing and photography
Year Milestone Notes Ref
  1890 First sponsored scientific expedition The first sponsored scientific expedition started in 1890 and was published in the July 1902 issue. The expedition was led by Geologist Dr. Israel Russell who surveyed and mapped the Mount Saint Elias region in North America. During the voyage, Canada's highest peak, Mount Logan was discovered.
  1909 Robert E. Peary discovers the North Pole In a society sponsored expedition to the North Pole, explorer Robert E. Peary was the first to discover the region on April 6, 1909. The article featured accolades that were received and published in the January 1910 issue of the magazine.
  1929 First flight to the South Pole The first flight to the South Pole was a National Geographic Societyg sponsored expedition. On November 29, 1929 Richard E. Byrd flew over the South Pole photographing more than 60,000 square miles of Antarctica from the air, which was featured in the August 1930 issue of the magazine.
  1952 First publication by underwater pioneer Jacques Cousteau The magazine publishes first of many undersea articles by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The name of the article was called "Fish Men Explore a New World Underwater" and was published in the October issue of 1952.
  1961 Jane Goodall's research on Chimpanzees Jane Goodall starts her expedition and research on Chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa ’s Gombe Stream Park using funds from National Geographic.g Her findings were published throughout the later half of the 20th century.
  1963 First Americans conquer Mt. Everest In a National Geographic Society supported expeditiong mountaineer Jim Whittaker, was the first American to conquer Mount Everest
  1967 Dian Fossey studies gorillas Dian Fossey begins a long-term Society-funded study of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Africa.
  1978 Koko the gorilla learns sign-language Sign-language skills of Koko the gorilla, following six years of National Geographic Society-funded training by Francine Patterson, was reported in the October 1978 issue of the magazine.
  2012 James Cameron and the Mariana Trench James Cameron, becomes first person to dive solo to the Mariana Trench in the Deepsea Challenger, a joint scientific expedition to conduct deep-ocean research.


Writing and photography
Year Milestone Notes Ref
  1896 Monthly magazine and design change In January of 1896 the magazine started featuring titles of articles on the front cover and began publishing the magazine on a monthly basis.
  1910 Front cover design change In the February 1910 issue, the design of the front cover changed to a yellow oak leaf border illustration featuring a yellow border; with the exception of a few background color and font changes, this would be the primary design through June of 1959.
  1959 Small images on the front cover In the July 1959 issue, the magazine started including small photos on the front cover.
  1959 Exclusion of the word "Magazine" In the December 1959 issue, the word "Magazine" was excluded from the title. In January and February of 1960 the publication was called "The National Geographic". By March of 1960 the name of the magazine was simply titled National Geographic.
  1962 Large images on the front cover In the January 1962 issue, the magazine started including large photos, enveloping the entire cover.
  1979 No more oak leaf on the cover The September 1979 was the first time the magazine dropped the oak leaf border from the cover, making the yellow border for visibly noticeable.

Social / other[edit]

Writing and photography
Year Milestone Notes Ref
  1941 Efforts of WWII National Geographic Society gives access of photographs, maps, and cartographic details to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help with the war efforts of WWII.
  1962 The Society's flag in space. John Glenn transports the National Geographic Society's flag on first U.S. orbital space flight aboard NASA's Mercury-Atlas 6.
  1969 The Society's flag on the moon Apollo 11 astronauts transport the National Geographic Society's flag to the moon.
  1996 Website launch is launched on the world wide web
  2018 Racism acknowledgment Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg admitted publicly, "For decades, our coverage was racist. To rise above our past, we must acknowledge it".

Further reading[edit]

  • ISBN 978-0-14-303593-0 Robert M. Poole, Explorers House: National Geographic and the World it Made, 2004; reprint, Penguin Press, 2006
  • ISBN 978-0-8139-2966-8 Stephanie L. Hawkins, American Iconographic: "National Geographic," Global Culture, and the Visual Imagination, University of Virginia Press, 2010, 264 pages. A scholarly study of the magazine's rise as a cultural institution that uses the letters of its founders and its readers; argues that National Geographic encouraged readers to question Western values and identify with others.

See also[edit]


a.^ The National Geographic Magazine was the publication's name until December 1959, after which it was simply called "National Geographic".[87]
b.^ Photograph not credited in the magazine, but is at the preceding reference[94]
c.^ Multiple articles, multiple authors
d.^ Uncredited image
e.^ Two photographers credited, it is not stated which one took the photo
f.^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
g.^ As well as other sponsors


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