History Highlights

Where Weʼve Been:

Without the courage, leadership, and sheer heroism of our original founders, there is no telling where the GSC would be today. Over the past 100 years, the GSC has led and honored expeditions and excursions to some of the most fascinating places on Earth. It is critical to reflect on and appreciate our history, so we can realize how far weʼve come and how far we still need to go. We encourage you to review our historic archives, learn about the history of the organization, and find out what youʼve been missing.

Remember When…..

  • 1898    Geographic Society of Chicago is founded by Zonia Baber and fellow geographers.
  • 1907    The Helen Culver Gold Medal was inaugurated by the GSC in 1907 for recognition of valuable contributions to the science of geography. The first recipient was the famous Norwegian scientist, explorer, and specialist in the Earth’s magnetism, Roald Amundsen, who spoke about his recently completed adventures exploring the Northwest Passage.
  • 1909    Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry Magazine, testified on behalf of the Society before the Congressional Ways and Means Committee regarding the creation of the National Park Service.
  • 1909    New GSC member Meta Mannhardt and 43 others take an 18-day pioneering tour of Yellowstone National Park.
  • 1911    GSC members help secure passage of an act by the Illinois Legislature to fund Starved Rock State Park.
  • 1913    Roald Amundsen is presented with the GSC Gold Medal for discovery of the South Pole, December 16, 1911.
  • 1924    The GSC joins forces with other groups to lobby against damming the Yellowstone River. It runs freely today because of those efforts.
  • 1930    Rear Admiral Richard Byrd is presented with the GSC Gold Medal for his achievement in flying to the South Pole.
  • 1934    Amelia Earhart presents a lecture to the GSC entitled “Conquest of the Air By Plane.”
  • 1943    The GSC urges the creation of Illinois Beach State Park.
  • 1948    The GSC celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

Yellowstone National Park, Ranger Naturalist Service  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USAAmundsen's expedition at the South Pole, December 1911Amelia Earhart

  • 1953    The GSC Gold Medal is awarded to members of Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition for reaching the top of Mt. Everest.
  • 1957    The first GSC Distinguished Service Award is given to Jacques Cousteau.
  • 1960    Dr. Richard Houk, geography professor at DePaul University, begins leading overseas tours for GSC members, a tradition that continues throughout the GSC’s history.
  • 1962    Astronaut John Glenn is awarded the GSC Gold Medal.
  • 1976    Chicago: Metropolis of the Mid-Continent, the GSC’s 75th Anniversary publication, by geographer Dr. Irving Cutler, is favorably reviewed by the Chicago Tribune.
  • 1987    The GSC joins the Chicago Public School system’s Adopt-A-School program.
  • 1997    The GSC supports the American Heritage River Initiative, which recognizes the Chicago River and Illinois River Watershed in the role they have played as hubs in the nation’s economic development.
  • 1998    President of the National Geographic Society, Gilbert Grovesnor is the featured speaker at the GSC’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in the Palmer House. The GSC prepared a special booklet, “Celebrating A Century“, commemorating this event and providing a glimpse into the Society’s rich history.

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar.: Photo by Pavel NovakJacques Cousteau  image Source: NASAAstronaut John H. Glenn Jr. dons his silver Mercury pressure suit in preparation for launch of Mercury Atlas 6 (MA-6) rocket. Source:NASAIllinois River Basin

  • 2000    The Geographic Society of Chicago and the National Geographic Society establish an endowment fund, the GSC-NGS Education Fund, for expanding geography education opportunities in the Chicago area.
  • 2001    In collaboration with the Field Museum, the GSC offered funding for teachers to attend National Geographic Live! lectures and professional development workshops.
  • 2007    The GSC began hosting an annual reception for Illinois Geography Bee contestants and their families.
  • 2008    Travelogues find a new home at the Renaissance Court at the Cultural Center
  • 2009    GSC starts first Geography program with Union League After School Clubs
  • 2010    GSC purchases the Earth Balloon — renamed program “Geosphere”
  • 2011    GSC jumps into social media with both feet, starting  “The Backyard Geographer” blog, tweeting from @GeoSocietyChi and hosting and holding  Meetups
  • 2012    President Award presented to Susie Schreiber for her leadership in improving the environment in Waukegan, IL
  • 2012    GSC collaborates with COOL, a Waukegan summer camp based on STEM and teaches geospatial technologies (GPS and GIS) to 4th and 8th graders.
  • 2013    The Backyard Geographer wins a Top Content award from Snippetfact.com
  • 2013    President Award presented to Ani Smith, teacher at Sheridan School in Elgin,IL  for promoting geography in her district and serving as the state Geography Bee Coordinator for 5 years.
  • 2013    New GSC logo launched