National Geographic Turns 125: A Look Back At The Iconic Photos

on January 11 2013 10:17 PM

From a small scientific body founded “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge” to one of the largest educational and scientific organizations in the world, the National Geographic Society has plenty to celebrate on its 125th anniversary this Sunday.

The society will mark the occasion in several ways, including the release of a book, “National Geographic 125 Years,” a one-hour National Geographic Channel special highlighting a new breed of “super explorer,” and a Google+ Hangout featuring Robert Ballard, James Cameron, and Jane Goodall at 1 p.m. EST. It will also have an anniversary-themed exhibition make its debut and hold a gala at the National Geographic Museum in Washington.

Since its humble beginnings in the Cosmos Club of Washington in 1888, the magazine has made armchair travelers out of us all. Its first grainy image graced the pages in 1890, and by 1906, there were so many photos that two members of the board of trustees resigned in protest, claiming the magazine had become “a picture book.”

Indeed it had, and perhaps more than anything else, it’s the stunning photos of the exotic and everyday that have become National Geographic’s trademark. It’s attracted the world’s preeminent photographers and captured a view of the world that’s completely unrivaled -- all while pushing the boundaries of discovery and adventure.

As National Geographic celebrates 125 years, here’s a look back at some of the shots that defined the iconic publication:

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1964: A touching moment between primatologist and National Geographic grantee Jane Goodall and young chimpanzee Flint at Tanzania’s Gombe Stream Reserve. Hugo van Lawick

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1909: National Geographic funded Cmdr. Robert E. Peary’s expedition to the North Pole. Whether or not Peary and his assistant, Matthew Henson, reached the Pole, they came closer to that goal than anyone had before them. Robert E. Peary Collection, NGS

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1915: Gilbert H. Grosvenor, first full-time editor of National Geographic magazine, awakens after a night spent beneath a giant sequoia tree during his first trip to California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. After this visit, he lobbied for passage of a bill that created the National Park Service in 1916. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection

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1926: Using a brassbound waterproof camera and dragging a raft rigged with a pound of explosive flash powder -- the equivalent of 2,400 flashbulbs -- marine biologist William Longley and National Geographic photographer Charles Martin stalked the shallows around the Dry Tortugas, making the first natural-color underwater images. W. H. Longley and Charles Martin

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1931: In his favorite picture, legendary National Geographic photojournalist Maynard Owen Williams marveled how, in this bazaar in Herat, Afghanistan, nobody blinked during the three seconds required to make the exposure. Maynard Owen Williams

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1938: Three figures on camelback behold the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. B. Anthony Stewart

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Beginning in 1938, Matthew Stirling, chief of the Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology, led eight National Geographic-sponsored expeditions to Tabasco and Veracruz in Mexico. He uncovered 11 colossal stone heads, evidence of the ancient Olmec civilization that had lain buried for 15 centuries. Richard Hewitt Stewart

Mt. Everest

Do guides and climbers need a code of conduct for Mount Everest? Barry Bishop (copyright)

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1984: Behind the Iron Curtain, workers parade through Moscow's Red Square on May Day. Dean Conger

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1991: Rusted prow of the RMS Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg in April 1912. Emory Kristof

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