The Sixth Generation at National Geographic

Craig E. Aronoff
Craig Aronoff

The National Geographic Society with its famed National Geographic Magazine is a not-for-profit entity dating to 1888. Among its founders and first president was Gardiner Greene Hubbard, an attorney and financier.  He helped to fund Alexander Graham Bell’s research that led Bell to being awarded the patent on the telephone in 1876. The next year, Bell married Hubbard’s daughter and after his father-in-law’s death, succeeded him as National Geographic Society president.

Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor became the Society’s first employee in 1899, and the next year, married the boss’s daughter.  He was editor of the magazine for 51 years and served the Society as president and then chairman of the board.  His son, Melville Bell Grosvenor, joined the family business in 1924, also served as president and editor, and in 1967 succeeded his father as board chair.  His son, Gilbert Melville Grosvenor, joined the magazine in 1954, became editor in 1970, president in 1980 and was named chairman emeritus in 2010. He retired from the board in 2014 after 60 years of service.

His daughter, Alexandra Grosvenor Eller, MD, joined the National Geographic Board in 2009 and continues family stewardship of this important institution into its sixth generation.

An organization need not be a business to benefit from a family’s multigenerational nurturing commitment. And profit from the good done by the organization need not be in the form of dollars to the family who founded and developed the institution.