Brownsville, Texas: 1938
Women in period dress greet travelers arriving on a Pan Am flight.
Since the founding of the National Geographic Society in 1888, our documentary work has taken inspiration from the world around us—from fragile ecosystems that demand conservation to monuments of civilization that tell the human story—to encourage people to look closer and care more about the planet.
Our goal is rooted in the belief that knowledge comes from curiosity. Established “for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge,” the Society quickly cultivated an audience with an appetite for adventure.
But you don’t have to summit Everest to solve its greatest mystery or plumb the depths aboard the Calypso like Jacques Cousteau to embrace the mystery and beauty around us. All you need to do is step outside with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to ask questions. All storytellers are travelers, and all travelers can become storytellers.
Inspiration helps. Whether it comes from the first scientific expedition undertaken by the National Geographic Society in 1890, led by Israel Russell to survey and map the Mount St. Elias region in North America, or the groundbreaking work of Explorer-led expeditions today, boundary-pushing journeys can “illuminate and protect the wonder of our world,” as our motto reads.
This spirit of exploration is fueled by our visual storytellers, who for more than a century have documented epic landscapes, microscopic life forms, and far-flung communities, as well as everyday sights made remarkable through their expert lens.
National Geographic’s photographic archive counts more than 10 million images. Here are a few of our favorites. To be sure, they document the privilege of travel and the perspectives of past photographers. But they also capture the timeless inspiration, joy, and reward of exploring the world.
Subscribe here for full access to our archives, including National Geographic’s treasure trove of vintage photographs and articles.
This gallery was originally published on November 15, 2017. It has been updated.
- Nat Geo Expeditions