The Explorers Club
hat’s been to both poles, the top of Mt. Everest, the bottom of the ocean and even the surface of the moon?
The official flag of the Explorer’s Club, that’s what. Their flag represents their history of accomplishments and has been carried on hundreds of expeditions by Club members since 1918. Today there are 202 numbered flags, each with its own story, and several of them line the walls of the clubs headquarters in New York City.
The flag room at Explorer Club headquarters, NY. All the retired flags since 1918
On May 28,1904, at the request of Henry Collins Walsh, Adolphus Greely, Donaldson Smith, Henry Collins Walsh, Carl Lumholtz, Marshall Saville, Frederick Dellenbaugh, W. Furness, and David Brainard met for a dinner at the Aldine Association at 111 Fifth Ave, NYC with fifty other men known to the world of exploration to discuss the formation of an organization to “unite explorers in the bonds of good fellowship and to promote the work of exploration by every means in its power.” This somewhat secretive organization would come to be known as The Explorers Club and become the unofficial head quarters of many of the 20th centuries most influential scientists and explorers. Their roles include the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Charles Lindbergh and more then 3,000 other equally impressive people from around the world.
After the first meeting of the Explorers Club on October 25, 1905, the groups headquarters moved around up-town New York until March of 1912 when they finally found a place of their own at 345 Amsterdam Ave. This first HQ was a simple loft where the original members of the growing club could meet, keep the Clubs library, artifacts, and trophys.
The Explorer Club headquarter’s trophy room
The Club soon began inviting scientists, researchers and explorers from within and outside the organization to come and tell of their experiences. These informal discussions quickly developed into a lecture series that continues today. By the end of 1912 The Explorers Club greatly expanded their membership by including in their rolls the members of the Arctic Club of America, a specialized Arctic exploration club which already had a large degree of overlap with the Explorers Club, among their ranks. Over the next 50 years the Club fought through financial troubles, moved the Club head quarters multiple times although without ever leaving Manhattan and in 1921 founded the Explorers Journal which was designed as a forum to share news from the field, news from headquarters, new acquisitions, obituaries (of which there were many), book reviews, and so on. Finally, in 1965 the 1910 Jacobean townhouse built by Stephen Clark on E. 70th St. was bought by the Club and renamed in honor of the generous donations from the famed journalist Lowell Thomas creating a landmark home base for explorers the world over. This beautiful turn of the century building has remained the head quarters of the Club ever since and it was there that in 1981 the Club President Charles F. Brush extended membership to the prestigious Club to women for the first time.
Today the only restrictions to membership in this exclusive club are “notable contributions to the cause of exploration and furtherance of the scientific knowledge of the world.” So, not exactly easy but, if it was easy would you want to join as much. Members are made up of field scientists and explorers from over 60 countries in a wide range of disciplines including aeronautics, archaeology, mountaineering, oceanography, physics and zoology.
Even though the clubs accomplishments are vast and sometimes on a grand scale the general day-to-day activities are kept under wraps. They do, however, make it abundantly clear that lavish dinners, awards ceremonies and explorations to far corners of the globe are the norm for members of The Explorers Club. The Club is well known, or maybe infamous is a better word, in New York for its annual black tie Explorers Club Dinner held at the Waldorf Astoria. Members come from all over the world to attend, show off their new discoveries, give talks, and schmooze with some of the most accomplished people on the planet. It has been described as a buffet of epic proportions consisting of exotic delicacies like fried cockroaches and spiders. In 1951 (confirmed by the club archivist by this guy), they even went so far as to include bits of woolly mammoth meat that had been tenderizing in Siberian permafrost for ten thousand years.
Now, I have wanted to be Indiana Jones since I was just a boy so, in my mind this is still one of the most amazing organizations out there. A little bit of secrecy and intrigue only makes it better and tell me what “gentleman” worth his weight in tail suits doesn’t belong to at least one secret society or fraternal organization.