Born in Stillwater, Minnesota, in 1930, Tom Abercrombie attended St. Paul's Macalester College, majoring in art and journalism. He served as staff photographer for one year at North Dakota's Fargo Forum, followed by three years at Wisconsin's Milwaukee Journal.
In 1955 Abercrombie joined the National Geographic Society's Photography Division and was promoted to its foreign editorial staff just one year later. During his 38 years with the Society, he photographed and wrote 43 articles for National Geographic magazine. He also produced films on the 1962 revolution in Yemen and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Abercrombie's years at National Geographic were filled with a number of professional as well as personal highlights. In 1957 he became the first correspondent to reach the geographic South Pole. In 1965 he discovered the 6,000-pound (2,700-kilogram) Wabar meteorite in the Arabian Desert. In 1974 the Overseas Press Club honored him for the Best Overseas Reporting for a Magazine. And in 1978 the Royal Danish Yacht Club presented him with the Baltic Cup.
Six years later, Abercrombie charted the unexplored frankincense caravan routes across South Arabia. And in the 1991 National Geographic article "Ibn Battuta: Prince of Travelers," he wrote about the year he spent traveling through 35 countries—from Morocco to China—in the footsteps of the 14th-century Arab explorer.
Retiring from National Geographic in 1994, Abercrombie became an in-demand lecturer and continued writing as a freelancer. He died at the age of 75 in 2006.