Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor

Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor
Born (1875-10-28)October 28, 1875
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (now Istanbul, Turkey)
Died February 4, 1966(1966-02-04) (aged 90)
Cape Breton Island, Canada
Known for National Geographic Magazine
Spouse(s) Elsie May Bell
Children Seven, including Dr. Mabel Grosvenor
Relatives Alexander Graham Bell
Mabel Gardiner Bell
William Howard Taft
second cousin

Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor (/ˈɡrvnər/; October 28, 1875 – February 4, 1966), father of photojournalism, was the first full-time editor of National Geographic Magazine (1899-1954). Grosvenor is credited with having built the magazine into the iconic publication that it is today.

As President of the National Geographic Society, he assisted its rise to one of the world's largest and best known science and learning organizations, aided by the chronicling in its magazine of ambitious natural and cultural explorations around the globe.[1]


Grosvenor was born in 1875 to Lilian Waters and Edwin A. Grosvenor[2] in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire, (now Istanbul, Turkey) and educated at Worcester Academy and at Robert Elementary School.[3] He attended Amherst College and graduated with the AB degree magna cum laude in 1897. While at Amherst, Grosvenor and his twin brother Edwin were one of the best tennis doubles teams.[4] Grosvenor became the President of the National Geographic Society (1920–1954). Grosvenor married Elsie May Bell (1878–1964), the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell.

Grosvenor's health deteriorated following the death of his wife and he died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 90 on February 4, 1966.

National Geographic Society

Grosvenor was hired in 1899 as the first full-time employee of the National Geographic Society by Alexander Graham Bell, the Society's President at the time. He eventually was named Director, and later President of the Society, and remained Editor of the magazine until 1954.

Grosvenor advocated policies of neutrality and positive, upbeat journalism through two world wars, the Great Depression, and the beginning of the Cold War. This style was seen as innovative in the opening years of the 20th century. However, by the 1950s, Grosvenor's style was criticized as being ossified and dated. He and his staff (most of whom were in their late 60s and 70s) were criticized as being conservative, complacent, and unwilling to modernize, and the National Geographic's subscription base fell as a consequence. After 50 years at the helm, he stepped down in 1954 at the age of 78.

Support for the National Park Service

Grosvenor first traveled to the western United States in 1915 to hike with Stephen Mather in the Sierra Mountains and what is now Sequoia National Park. "Grosvenor was so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the High Sierras and his experience on the trip that he became a revered and long-time friend of Mather and the national parks," according to National Park Service historian Walter Bielenberg.[5] Following his return, Grosvenor provided funding to buy Giant Forest and add it to Sequoia National Park.

For years, opposition in Congress had prevented creation of a national system of parks. In late 1915 and 1916, Grosvenor met with Stephen Mather, Horace Albright, and others to draft the Organic Act, which would create a National Park Service. He then created a special issue of the National Geographic Magazine (April 1916) entitled "The Land of the Best" to promote the importance of parks and encouraged readers to support creation of a national system. He and Albright made sure that every member of Congress had a copy of the issue. Their efforts worked, and that year legislation finally passed that would establish the National Park Service.[6]

Grosvenor continued involvement with the National Parks over the years. He became very involved in protecting the Katmai volcanic crater and Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes from mining exploitation, and helped to establish Katmai National Monument in 1918.[7]


Grosvenor was also the:


Grosvenor is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery alongside his wife and members of the Bell family. Grosvenor Arch, a sandstone double arch located in southern Utah, is named after Gilbert Grosvenor. In 1931 Grosvenor bought a property in Coconut Grove, Florida next door to his brother-in-law, David Fairchild. He called this estate Hissar after the small town in Turkey where he was born. After Fairchild's estate, The Kampong, was acquired by the National Tropical Botanical Garden they bought Hissar also.[10] Grosvenor served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Miami from 1944 to 1960.[11] In the 1950s, Grosvenor's daughter acquired an historic building in Baddeck, Nova Scotia which she named Gilbert H. Grosvenor Hall in his honour.


Grosvenor's third child, a daughter, Dr. Mabel Harlakenden Grosvenor (Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, July 28, 1905 – Baddeck, Nova Scotia, October 30, 2006), was a Canadian-born pediatrician, with dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship. For several years she was secretary to her grandfather Alexander Graham Bell,[8] and lived in both Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia and Washington, D.C.[12] Mabel oversaw the stewardship of Bell's legacy Canadian estate at Beinn Bhreagh, Baddeck, Nova Scotia, until her death, and was also the Honorary President of the Alexander Graham Bell Club (founded in 1891), Canada's oldest continuing women's club. The club grew out of a social organization started at Beinn Bhreagh, by her grandmother and namesource Mabel Bell.[13][14]

Gilbert Grosvenor was second cousin to U.S. President and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft.[15]

See also


  1. "Dr. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Dies. Head of National Geographic, 90. Editor of Magazine 55 Years Introduced Photos, Increased Circulation to 4.5 Million.". New York Times. February 5, 1966. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Baddeck, N.S., Feb. 4, 1966 (Canadian Press) Dr. Gilbert H. Grosvenor, chairman of the board and former president of the National Geographic Society and editor of the National Geographic magazine from 1899 to 1954, died on the Cape Breton Island estate once owned by his father-in-law, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell. He was 90 years old.
  2. "Grosvenor Family Papers". Library of Congress Manuscript Reading Room.
  3. "Where East Meets West.". Time (magazine). 24 April 2007. Robert College stands at the Bosporus narrows, where Europe and Asia are only 800 yards apart. Its 19th-century buildings overshadow a 15th-century Turkish fort. Engineers trained at Robert have built modern Turkey's factories, railroads and sewage systems. Basketball, softball, other U.S. sports have spread through Turkey from the college. Robert's noted students: Bulgaria's first education minister; a confidential secretary of the late President of Turkey, Ismet Inönü; Editor Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic (his father taught there).
  5. Bielenberg, Warren. "Gilbert H. Grosvenor 1875-1966". National Park Service.
  6. "National Geographic and the U.S. National Parks". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  7. Sontag (editor), William H. (1990). National Park Service: The First 75 Years. Eastern National Park and Monument Association.
  8. 1 2 Martin, Sandra. "Mabel Grosvenor, Doctor 1905-2006", Toronto: The Globe and Mail, November 4, 2006, p.S.11. Proquest document ID: 383502285. Retrieved April 12, 2011.
  9. Cosmos Club blog
  10. "National Tropical Botanical Garden - Kampong - History". Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  11. Tebeau, Charlton W. The University of Miami. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1976. p. 392.
  12. Sullivan, Patricia. Obituary: Mabel Grosvenor, 101, Doctor, Granddaughter Of Inventor Bell, Washington Post, November 9, 2006. Retrieved via the Boston Globe at on June 15, 2010.
  13. Bethune, Jocelyn. "Alexander Graham Bell’s Granddaughter Dies At 101", Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Chronicle Herald, October 31, 2006. Retrieved June 15, 2010.
  14. Bethune, Jocelyn. Historic Baddeck: Images Of Our Past, Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, N.S., 2009, pp.112-113, 117, ISBN 1-55109-706-0, ISBN 978-1-55109-706-0.
  15. Grosvenor Family Papers, Manuscript Division, U.S. Library of Congress, 2000, revised April 2010.

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