National Geographic : 1962 Apr
This was the family's first trip to the Nation's Capital. The Prewetts visited the White House, Supreme Court, Mount Vernon, the Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution. At the Society's headquarters, I welcomed our guests. "How did your pupils find out about your interest in the Society?" I asked. "Well, it started last fall with a class proj ect," Mrs. Prewett explained. "We were studying our neighbors, Canada and Mexico. We used GEOGRAPHICS for research. I asked the children to bring their copies from home." The story was typical of our members. One person shares his enthusiasm with another and our Society grows. The pattern was set in 1888 when 33 men founded the nonprofit National Geographic Society to promote science and education. Membership, said these pioneers, should be "broad and liberal." The Society did not broaden overnight. The second President, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, later said, "I can well remem ber... how the idea was laughed at that we should ever reach a membership of 10,000. Why, it was ridiculous. Geography, the driest subject of all in our schools!" Dr. Bell shared his vision with a young editor: "Why not popularize the science of geography and take it into the homes of the people? Why not transform the Society's magazine... into a vehicle for carrying the living, breathing, human-interest truth about this great world of ours? Would not that be the greatest agency of all for the diffusion of geographic knowledge?" The young editor was my father, Dr. Gil bert Grosvenor. When he began his career with the magazine, he carried a month's issue on his back to the post office. When he retired 55 years later on May 5, 1954, the So ciety had 2,041,019 members. Society Continues to Grow Experts predicted that the rolls would level off at that figure. They reckoned without the enthusiasm of our members and their officers. Among those enthusiasts was Thomas W. McKnew, who joined our staff in 1932. A fifth-generation Washingtonian, he brought a distinguished list of achievements: He had constructed such important works as the United States Internal Revenue Building and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washing ton, D. C., and the State Office Building of West Virginia at Charleston. Dr. McKnew al so brought a sense of dedication and a quest ing mind. One of his first responsibilities with the Society was serving as project officer for 582 the National Geographic Society-U. S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Expeditions of 1934 35; the flights established a world altitude rec ord of 72,395 feet for manned balloons and laid a foundation for the exploration of space. As Secretary and Executive Vice President, Dr. McKnew brilliantly managed the design of our new high-speed color presses and the gigantic task of moving the magazine's print ing operation from Washington to R. R. Don nelley & Sons Company in Chicago. It was Dr. McKnew who led the negotia tions for the Society's sale of the Champion International Company to the Oxford Paper Company-then worked with Oxford for the development of revolutionary improvements in paper quality for the magazine's use. Re cently, he has helped guide plans for our new National Geographic Headquarters Building; now in construction, it promises to be an ar chitectural triumph in function and form. Recognizing his achievements, the Society's Trustees recently elected Dr. McKnew Vice Chairman of the Board, as successor to the late Dr. John Oliver La Gorce. Elected Sec retary and Executive Vice President was Mel vin M. Payne, long-time Associate Secretary, a key administrator in the Society's affairs and in our undertakings in research and ex ploration. Mr. Thomas M. Beers was elected Vice President. Sixth-graders Share a Milestone Dr. McKnew and Mr. Payne joined me in showing the Prewett family through our head quarters. In Explorers Hall we pointed out the world map that traces the web of more than 180 expeditions and scientific projects made possible by the dues each member pays. In the cartographic department, our guests watched map makers draft and edit master copies for the 21,000,000 maps distributed by your Society each year. On behalf of the Trustees, I was happy to award to Mrs. Prewett a life membership in the Society, a complete set of National Geo graphic books, and a framed color photograph of her Omaha sixth-graders. "Such a sweet group of children," she said proudly. "You couldn't have given me anything nicer." Then Mrs. Prewett told me of overhearing her pupils as they talked about all the exciting plans - especially the prospect of seeing their own class picture in the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC. "Just think," said one little girl, "all of this for just fifteen cents apiece." The child had a point for all of us: By shar ing among three million members the costs of exploration, map making, research, and pub lication, we indeed make possible "all of this."