Changing Planet

Setting a Precedent for the Story of the Perfect Storm

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.


“When the Charles H. Marshall was about 18 miles S.E. from the lightship, a dense fog shut in, and it was decided to remain outside and ride out the storm. The wind hauled to the eastward toward midnight, and at 3 A.M., it looked so threatening in the N.W. that a fourth reef was taken in the mainsail and the foresail was treble-reefed…in twenty minutes the gale struck her with such force from N.W. that she was thrown on her beam ends; she instantly righted again, however, but in two hours was so covered with ice that she looked like a small iceberg.”

–From “The Great Storm off the Atlantic Coast of the United States, March 11-14, 1888,” by Hayden and published in the very first issue of National Geographic magazine.

From its earliest days, the National Geographic magazine has covered earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and all manner of violent weather. Hayden set the tone early on with this riveting account of a storm that sunk 185 vessels on the east coast of the U.S. Edward Everett Hayden, a career naval officer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 14, 1858. He served with the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Geological Survey in the West but turned to meteorology after being caught in a landslide while on expedition for the U.S.G.S. and subsequently losing a leg. Widely recognized as an authority on ocean storms, he was the author of such papers as “The Charleston Earthquake,” “Tropical Cyclones,” “The Modern Law of Storms,” “The Samoan Hurricane of 1899,” and “Storms of the North Atlantic.” For the magazine, he also penned “The Law of Storms,” in 1890 and served as vice-president of the budding organization from that year until 1893.

Fire was another type of disaster that captured his attention. In 1908, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Patent #880662 for an automatic electric fire-alarm signal. Under ordinary circumstances, the device acted like a regular push button, but when heated, the circuit would automatically close and sound an alarm.

In fact, Hayden seemed to love to tinker and had patents for crutches that were supposedly easier on the arms as well as an intriguing device he called a “toy pistol nail cleaner.” Unfortunately the patent description gives no clue as to how Hayden came up with this combination.

Little else is known about this multifaceted gentleman’s personal life. While in Washington, D.C., he lived close to Geographic headquarters. Hayden died on November 17, 1932.

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