The National Geographic Society (NGS), headquartered in Washington, D.C. in the United States, is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. The National Geographic Society began as a club for an elite group of academics and wealthy patrons interested in travel. On January 13, 1888, 33 explorers and scientists gathered at the Cosmos Club, a private club then located on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., to organize "a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge." After preparing a constitution and a plan of organization, the National Geographic Society was incorporated two weeks later on January 27.In 2004, the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. was one of the first buildings to receive a "Green" certification from Global Green USA. The National Geographic received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Communications and Humanity in October 2006 in Oviedo, Spain.
Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation, and the study of world culture and history. The National Geographic Society's historical mission is "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical, and natural resources. " Its purpose is to inspire people to care about their planet, according to John M. Fahey, Jr., President and CEO since March 1998 and Chairman since January 2010. The Society is governed by a Board of Trustees whose 22 members include distinguished educators, business executives, former government officials, and conservationists. The organization sponsors and funds scientific research and exploration. The Society publishes an official journal, National Geographic Magazine, in 34 languages. It also publishes other magazines, books, school products, maps, other publications, and web and film products in numerous languages and countries. Its educational foundation gives grants to education organizations and individuals to improve geography education. Its Committee for Research and Exploration, which has given grants for scientific research for most of the Society's history, recently awarded its 10,000th such grant.
Its various media properties reach about 360 million people monthly. National Geographic maintains a museum for the public in its Washington, D.C., headquarters. It has helped to sponsor popular traveling exhibits, such as an early 2010s "King Tut" exhibit featuring magnificent artifacts from the tomb of the young Egyptian Pharaoh; "The Cultural Treasures of Afghanistan" which opened in May 2008 and traveled to other cities for 18 months; and an exhibition of China's Terracotta Warriors in its Washington headquarters in 2009–10. In November 2008, National Geographic opened a major retail store in London.
In addition to its flagship magazine, the Society publishes six other periodicals in the United States:
The Society has published maps, atlases, filmstrips, and numerous books. It also lends its license to other publishers, for example to Thames & Kosmos for a line of science kits. In October 2007, National Geographic created a new Global Media group composed of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital media and maps units.
National Geographic Films, a wholly owned taxable subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, has also produced a feature film based on the diary of a Russian submarine commander starring Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker, and most recently retooling a French-made documentary for U.S. distribution with a new score and script narrated by Morgan Freeman called March of the Penguins, whichreceived an Academy Award for the Best Documentary in 2006. National Geographic Films launched a new feature film in July 2007 called Arctic Tale, featuring the story of two families of walrus and polar bears.