The famous yellow cover gets its start
It was on this day in 1888 that the first issue of National Geographic was published. The National Geographic Society had been formed earlier that year by an enthusiastic group of 33 gentlemen who were excited about maps, about traveling, about facts and ideas associated with geography. The first issue of National Geographic was a scholarly journal, it was very technical, had a plain cover, and it was sent to 200 charter members.
One of the founding members was young Alexander Graham Bell. When the National Geographic Society was losing money and membership hadn't increased, Bell thought that it should reach out to regular people. He didn't really have the time himself, but he hired the man who would eventually be his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, to be the editor. Instead of academic writing, he used travel stories and simpler language.
Membership grew exponentially, especially after Grosvenor made the decision in 1905 to include photographs. He was short on material for an issue and needed to fill 11 more pages, so he stuck in photographs of Tibet. He thought everyone would be so angry that he would be fired, but instead everyone loved it. When Grosvenor had first gotten hired, there were 1,400 members. By the time he took over as president of the society in 1920, the National Geographic Society had more than 700,000 members. These days, the magazine has a circulation of more than 8 million.