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Lighting the Way

The thirty-three founders of the National Geographic Society were an adventurous and accomplished group. They included scientists, explorers, a journalist and a superintendent of the National Zoo. In recognition of the National Geographic Society’s upcoming 125th anniversary this series takes a look at their stories.

One of our least-known founders, Herbert Gouverneur Ogden, was long associated with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Over the course of his career he compiled several U.S. Coast Pilots for the Atlantic, providing lists of lighthouses, fog signals, and information regarding tides.

Ogden was born in New York on April 4, 1846, the son of Morgan Lewis and Eliza Glendy (McLaughlin) Ogden. After being educated in private schools and by private tutors, he was appointed an aid to the Survey on April 22, 1863. Because this was during the middle of the Civil War, he first worked with the Union Army on the defenses of Washington; and then, a year later, with the U.S. Navy in the region of the North Carolina sounds.

After the war, Ogden remained with the Coast and Geodetic Survey. He accompanied an 1865 expedition to Nicaragua, and in 1870 served as topographer with the first naval expedition to explore the Isthmus of Darien in Panama. On May 28, 1872, he took time off from his work to marry Mary A. Greene of Brooklyn.

In 1893 he was in charge of one of the survey parties marking the boundary line between British Columbia and Alaska, and two places are named in his honor: Ogden Peak, Alaska-Canada and Ogden Passage, Alaska. In 1898 he became the Survey’s inspector of hydrography and topography. As a vice-president of the young National Geographic Society, he contributed a piece entitled “Survey of the Coast,” which appeared in the magazine’s inaugural issue. Ogden died in 1906 and is buried in picturesque Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.