As one of Hillsdale’s most prominent alumni, W. Robert Moore ‘21 achieved worldwide fame as a writer and photographer for National Geographic magazine. Though his travels brought him to every corner of the earth, his roots remained firmly planted in Hillsdale.
Linda Moore, the public services librarian at Hillsdale College, said that W. Robert Moore did a lot throughout his life, but he never forgot Hillsdale.
“He was involved with Hillsdale as a student, as an alumnus, and as a Board of Trustees member,” Linda said.
W. Robert Moore’s father was a farmer in Litchfield, Mich. where Moore grew up only a few miles from the college. At Hillsdale, he was a part of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity as well as the Alpha Kappa Phi Literary Society. Moore majored in chemistry at Hillsdale and was also a member of the college debate team.
After his graduation in 1921, Moore went to Bangkok, Siam (modern day Thailand) where he taught physics, algebra, and English at Bangkok Christian College. During this time, Moore also worked as a freelance writer. He then returned to the states and earned his Masters degree in chemistry at the University of Michigan. Moore began his extensive career with National Geographic in 1930 after he was the only photographer to cover the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Moore had 68 articles and nearly 2,000 photographs published over his 36-year career. In 1953, Moore became the Chief of the Foreign editorial staff of National Geographic magazine.
Moore was a pioneer in natural color photography. In the summer of 1937, while on assignment from the National Geographic in Austria, Moore took the first shots with Kodachrome – one of the first successful color films – for the publication. He was able to capture action photography in color on 35mm film, a previously impossible feat. In the book “The National Geographic Society: 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery,” lab technician B. Anthony Stewart recalls the monumental moment when magazine editors processed Moore’s photographs.
“Everyone just went wild over them,” Stewart wrote. He added that the iridescence of color was “something that color photographers had never dreamed of.”
Also among his notable achievements in photography are the first polychrome pictures of South America, the first color photos of the Forbidden City of Peking (now Beijing), the first pictorial documentation of mysterious hill tribes in northern Thailand and Burma. He also photographed four solar eclipses – in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Soviet Union. Moore also served as a war correspondent in the Pacific during World War II.
A letter by Moore, published in the Hillsdale Alumni Magazine in 1936, gives insight to his down-to-earth character and his adventurous lifestyle.
“If you live in some far off corner of the world or travel to strange places someday you will probably see my six-foot figure stalking about laden with cameras and notebooks,” Moore wrote. “When old Hillsdale gave me a diploma in 1921 and told me that the world was before me, I took it very literally and sailed three months later for Bangkok, Siam as that seemed to be about as far out in the world as one could get.”
From 1949 to 1953, Moore served on the Hillsdale Board of Trustees and received the Alumni Achievement Award from the Alumni Association in 1960. Six years later, Moore was awarded by Hillsdale College with an Honorary Doctorate of Social Science degree. He died at the age of 68 on April 4, 1968.
Throughout every trip he took, Hillsdale College lived deeply in Moore’s heart, inspiring his creative and adventurous spirit.