History of National Geographic Magazine Part 2

About the major reference journal the National Geographic Magazine, sales figures, trivia, and examples from the magazine.


Size and Distribution of Sales: The magazine's circulation exceeds 9 million. About 85% of sales are in the U.S., but distribution is worldwide. The mailing list includes "Indian palaces, tea plantations, jungle settlements, ostrich farms, and Eskimo huts." More than 96% of the recipients are society members. There are no newsstand sales.

Examples of Typical Material: Articles are usually exotic, first-person narratives filled with imagery, like the following:

Just as I was thinking that the walls of palm that lined the river were impenetrable, Tengah's boat turned and disappeared into the yellow-green maze. He had found a place just large enough to pull the boat through, by grasping the hard brown trunks of palm and hacking with his parang. Inside was another world--a breathless heat, a febrile violin section of mosquito song, a dank gray odor arising from the squishy mud. Palms bent over and enclosed our passage with a thick roof of fronds overhead. When the wind blew, it made a sound like heavy rainfall.

--Joseph Judge, assistant editor, "Brunei, Borneo's Abode of Peace"

The Geographic's policy is to avoid criticism of other countries. In an article on purdah (the veiling of women) in India, the author, a woman, maintains a nonjudgmental attitude.

Actually, one of the practical aspects of purdah is that it permits enforced togetherness to operate without too much friction. For in overcrowded India, where three or four generations may live under one roof, a man who seldom communicates with another's wife or sees much more than her toes is not very apt to change partners. And the lines of authority within the family are clearly understood.

--Doranne Wilson Jacobson,

"Life behind the Veil"

Unusual Facts about It: The Geographic accepts no liquor or cigarette advertising, and Al Capone was shifted from the membership list to the subscription list when he left Chicago for Alcatraz.

The society has been a leader in conservation since 1915, when it contributed $100,000 to save 2,239 acres threatened by lumbering in Sequoia National Park.

The society allocates $1 million yearly for expeditions and research, and uses practically all the rest of its income in the production of its magazine, books, maps, and other educational materials.

The National Geographic Society's flag, designed by Elsie Graham Bell (Mrs. Gilbert H. Grosvenor), has three solid stripes--blue for sky, brown for earth, green for sea--and was carried on the first U.S. orbital space flight in 1962, to the top of Mt. Everest in 1963, and to the moon with the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.

Well-known contributors to the magazine have included Joseph Conrad, Amelia Earhart, the Lindberghs, Peary, Amundsen, Byrd, General Pershing, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Alexander Graham Bell, who wrote an article on lizards and turtles under the pseudonym H. A. Largelamb (unscrambled, A. Graham Bell) because he did not wish to appear to pose as a naturalist.

Future Plans: No major changes are planned for the near future, but the Geographic will probably continue to evolve improvements.

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