Geographical Society of Philadelphia

About Us


The mission of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia is to promote the discovery and appreciation of the many wonders of our world. The Society supports world exploration by presenting enlightening programs on travel, geography, science, history, exploration and world cultures to its members and the public in the Philadelphia area.


Early in 1891, the eminent Curator-in-charge at the Academy of Natural Sciences invited interested men and women to join him in forming the Geographical Club of Philadelphia. A year later, Professor Angelo Heilprin (1853-1907)‘s new science club had over a hundred members from many walks of life. (“Society” replaced “Club” in 1897). The Charter of April 1893 summed up ambitious goals: the advancement of the science of geography and of geographical studies and exploration; the recording of discoveries; and the presentation of researches.

The Club supported a young naval civil engineer’s daring expeditions into the Arctic in 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1895. These led to the final expedition of 1908 and the news that Robert E. Peary had reached the North Pole. There were other Arctic connections. Outstanding achievements in geography have been honored since 1901 with gold medals presented by the Society to selected explorers and geographers.

The unparalleled adventure and ordeal of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew, stranded on the Antarctic ice for 20 months starting January 20, 1915, then forced to row a 22-foot boat 850 miles across storm-ravaged seas, has long inspired world explorers and adventurers, beginning with the Geographical Society of Philadelphia (GEO) whose members enthusiastically supported the expedition’s pioneering scientific research. The stunning survival story of Shackleton and his Endurance crew was echoed in December, 2008 when Philadelphian Todd Carmichael became the first American to cross from the shores of Antarctica to the South Pole on foot and unassisted. He later described his grueling expedition to a packed Bellevue Hotel ballroom audience where he was honored by GEO with the same Cecelia Beaux-designed pin also presented to Ernest Shackleton over 100 years earlier.

The Society’s Gold medal for “eminent geographical research” commemorates Elisha Kent Kane, the young Philadelphia physician who went north with the rescue teams in 1851 and 1853 to look for Sir John Franklin, the lost British Arctic explorer. Amos Bonsall, President, 1900-02, sailed with Kane on the 1853 mission. Admiral George W. Melville, a survivor of the ill-fated Jeannette expedition of 1879 into Arctic waters north of Siberia, devised the innovative Drift Cask Experiment to determine the flow of Arctic currents. Sponsored by the Society, this was financed by Henry G. Bryant. Bryant himself was a world-famous geographer and explorer, multi-term President and the only President Emeritus of the Society. He published reports on his pioneering explorations in Labrador and other then-little-known places.

Since 1891, the Society has supported significant expeditions jus to list a few:
1902 Robert E. Peary’s discovery of the North Pole, and
1910 Ernest Shackleton’s daring exploration of Antarctica.
2004 Tracy Szela’s scuba expedition in Antarctica to study cold-tolerant organisms,
2008 Todd Carmichael’s solo expedition to the South Pole,
2011 Diana Nyad’s quest to swim the Gulf Stream from Cuba to Florida, and
2016 Paul Rosolie’s quest to solve the human-wildlife conflict.


GEO programs feature talks, exquisite presentations, and films by modern day explorers, adventure travelers, authors, scientists, and historians, including receptions and ethnic feasts, as well as behind-the-scene tours of Philadelphia landmarks and institutions.

  • Legacy Dinner – an annual event since 1891 where the most exceptional of explorers have been honored, including Theodore Roosevelt, John Glenn, Jacques Yves Cousteau and, more recently, Philadelphia’s Todd Carmichael (Antarctic adventurer) and Derrick Pitts (astronomer).
  • Marco Polo travelogue – where fellow travelers meet for a sociable exchange of travel photos and experiences.
  • Border Crossings – substantive presentations by and conversations with knowledgeable speakers on world cultures, in a casual setting.
  • Travel Junkies – where people share their travel stories and pictures in a BYO “open mic” slide night.
  • Members’ Events – social gatherings for GEO members only, which variously include guest speakers, music, and receptions in private settings.



As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the Geographical Society depends on and appreciates your generous gifts which directly support world exploration grants, underwrite student geographical studies, and help fund our programs that bring the world to Philadelphia’s doorstep.

Your gift to the Society is fully tax-deductible.

See the many ways in which you can support the Society.