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A Gathering Place

In May 1904, a group of men active in exploration met at the request of Henry Collins Walsh, to form an organization to unite explorers in the bonds of good fellowship and to promote the work of exploration by every means in its power.

Among these men were Adolphus Greely, Donaldson Smith, Henry Collins Walsh, Carl Lumholtz, Marshall Saville, Frederick Dellenbaugh, W. Furness, and David Brainard. On May 28, 1904, a dinner at the Aldine Association, located at 111 Fifth Avenue in New York City, was attended by fifty men well known in exploration. At this dinner, The Explorers Club was organized.

The Explorers Club was incorporated, and on October 25, 1905, the first regular meeting of the incorporators and subscribers was held during the afternoon. A meeting and “smoker” on that evening inaugurated the Club at its first quarters in the Studio Building at 23 West 67th Street. A year later the Club took up its headquarters at the Engineering Societies Building, 29 West 39th Street, where it remained until 1 March 1912 when the Club moved into new headquarters at 345 Amsterdam Avenue. Here, in an empty loft, the now rapidly growing organization had, for the first time, a home of its own in which to socialize and in which to gather its books, documents, trophies, and artifacts.

The Club began to invite both explorers returning from the field and visiting scientists to tell of their experiences. This informal practice soon developed into the smoker-lecture illustrated talks of the 1930s and 1940s. Today, our Calendar of Events continues to be filled with public lectures, members-only lectures, and other Special Events. Our members also tell their stories through Publications, Flag Reports, and our ECOH Oral History.

In 1912, The Explorers Club took upon its rolls all the members of the Arctic Club of America, to which it had sublet quarters and to which it was closely allied through overlapping memberships. The Arctic Club also had been organized by Henry Collins Walsh when he was one of a party returning to New York after the wreck of the Miranda off the coast of Greenland. This cruise—organized as Dr. Frederick A. Cook’s Arctic Expedition of 1894—ended abruptly when “a single solitary iceberg among the almost countless numbers that would be passed on the way would wilfully crash into the Miranda….” (Walsh 1896. The Last Cruise of the Miranda. New York, Transatlantic Publishing Co.). Walsh, Cook, and the other explorers promised each other to meet annually to celebrate their common bond.

The growing membership rolls made it necessary to secure larger quarters. Accordingly the Club purchased the brownstone at 47 West 76th Street, which became its headquarters in January 1922. At about this same time, the membership decided to publish a periodical, entitled then as today, The Explorers Journal. Volume one, number one, is a slim black and white pamphlet dated November 1921. The journal was designed as a forum to share news from the field, news from headquarters, new acquisitions, obituaries, book reviews, and so on.

During the late 1920s, the generous donations of Club president James B. Ford so increased the holdings of the Club’s library that a new headquarters was needed. Accordingly, an eight-story building was erected at 544 Cathedral Parkway (or West 110th Street). The Club relocated in 1928, armed with a plan to offset the cost of the new building by subletting the five stories of bedrooms included in the design. During the years that followed, the rental income proved insufficient. Today, the building is a Columbia University dormitory. Visitors can look up at the façade and see allegorical portraits representing the continents. In 1932 the lease at Cathedral Parkway was cancelled by mutual consent, and the Club leased its next and penultimate quarters at 10 West 72nd Street, across the street from the famed Dakota building.

In 1965 the Club purchased its current headquarters at 46 East 70th Street—a stunning Jacobean townhouse built in 1910 for Stephen Clark—for the sum of 650,000 dollars. The building was renamed in honor of Lowell Thomas, famed journalist and a member of the Club, whose generosity helped make the purchase possible. This beautiful townhouse is a fitting home for the Club and also opens its doors for private occasions through our Catering service.

It was here, in 1981, under the tenure of President Charles F. Brush, that the Club finally welcomed a new class of members, greatly expanding its rolls. At last, women were admitted to membership. The Club’s first female members included Sylvia Earle, Dian Fossey, Rita Mathews, Anna Roosevelt, and Kathryn Sullivan.

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste