William Edgar Geil

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William Edgar Geil, 1898 from the Lake Shore News, Wayne County, New York

William Edgar Geil (1 October 1865, Doylestown, Pennsylvania – 11 April 1925, Venice) was an unordained evangelist, Baptist missionary, explorer, lecturer, photographer and author of 10 books related to his travels. He is believed to be the first person to have travelled the entire length of the 2,500 kilometer-long Ming section of the Great Wall of China.[1]


Geil graduated from Doylestown Seminary and Lafayette College. Travelling widely to examine the state of Christian missions, Geil became interested in travel for its own sake. He visited the Five Sacred Mountains of China, about which he wrote in The Sacred 5 of China.[2] Geil then went on a journey along the entire length of the Great Wall of China. He came to be considered an expert in Chinese culture and religion.[3] He went on a four-year exploration of the land of the pygmies in central Africa.[4] He lectured all over the world, illustrating his talks with lantern slides. He visited cannibal tribes in New Guinea.[5] In 1912 he married Constance Emerson (1873–1959), a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson.[6] The couple lived in a mansion in Doylestown, until 1919 when Geil made travelled to China.[7] After William Geil's death, Constance Emerson Geil adopted a child. The Doylestown History Society has 21 boxes of photographs and memorabilia, which were sold by the descendants of the Geil family to a bibliophile, Walter Raymond Gustafson, whose descendants donated the materials.[8]


  • Pocket sword, a pocketbook of Scripture reading for all people. 1891. 
  • Laodicea; or The great sermon of the stones. 1897. 
  • The isle that is called Patmos. Philadelphia: A. J. Rowland. 1897. 
  • Ocean and isle. 1902. 
  • A Yankee on the Yangtze. NY: A. C. Armstrong & Son. 1904. 
  • The automatic calf: the Commandments up-to-date. London: S. W. Partridge. 1905. 
  • A Yankee in pigmy land. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 1905. 
  • Man of Galilee. NY: YMCA. 1906. 
  • The Great Wall of China. NY: Sturgis & Walton. 1909. 
  • Eighteen capitals of China. Philadelphia: Lippincott. 1911. 
  • Adventures in the African jungle hunting pigmies. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1917. [9]
  • The sacred five of China. London: J. Murray. 1926. [10]


  1. ^ Lin, Jennifer (29 June 2009). "Great Wall's forgotten man Doylestown explorer's century-old photos are back from oblivion". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  2. ^ "Religion in China: thinking in fives; New Religion". newreligion.eu. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  3. ^ "William Edgar Geil and religion in China; New Religion". newreligion.eu. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  4. ^ "GEIL, William Edgar". The International Who's Who in the World. 1912. p. 499. 
  5. ^ "Milwaukee Visitor Tells of Customs of Man-eating New Guinea Tribes.". The Milwaukee Journal. 15 Nov 1915. 
  6. ^ "Exploring the first man to explore the Great Wall of China". Courier Times, Doylestown. 5 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "William Edgar Geil and Religion in China II; New Religion". newreligion.eu. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  8. ^ "A Yankee in China". Smithsonian Magazine. 1 August 2006. 
  9. ^ "GEIL, WILLIAM EDGAR. Adventures in the African jungle hunting pigmies". Book Review Digest. vol. 13. 1918. p. 212. 
  10. ^ "Book Review: The Sacred 5 of China is the 5th Book on China". Nature. 118: 223. 14 Aug 1926. doi:10.1038/118223a0. 

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