, Newburyport, MA


October 10, 2013

National Geographic's birthday and its local connections

This month’s issue of National Geographic magazine marks the 125th anniversary of the prestigious publication published by the National Geographic Society.

There are at least two persons with Newburyport connections associated with the magazine. One was a native son who authored a feature in the very first issue. The other, the son of a Newburyport native, is responsible for the success of the magazine over the years.

In the October 1888 issue, Newburyport native and famous Arctic explorer Maj. Gen. Adolphus Greely wrote a feature story entitled “The Great Storm of March,” which was about the blizzard of March 1888.

Greely was in charge of the U.S. Weather Service in Washington, D.C., at the time of the storm, which remains one of the most severe storms on record to strike the Eastern Seaboard. Three to four feet of snow accompanied by near-zero temperatures and strong winds fell on New York and most of New England. Well over 400 people perished, 200 in New York City alone, as well as over 100 at sea. Damage was in the millions.

Greely’s article spoke of the loss of life and the damage inflicted on the region. He also strongly recommended a series of telegraphic signal stations at points along the coast to give warnings of approaching storms.

Surprisingly, the first few years of the magazine’s publication did not bring very good success. By 1899 the magazine had a monthly circulation of only about 1,000 and there were deep financial problems and the future did not look promising.

At this time Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was the president of the National Geographic Society. Bell was deeply concerned about the future of the magazine and he decided to appoint his son-in-law to the position of editor. Bell’s son-in-law happened to be Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, who was teaching school in New Jersey and was married to Bell’s daughter, Elsie.

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