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W. Robert Moore’s senior yearbook photo (1921 Winona Yearbook)

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.”

A 1931 photo by Moore, taken in Annam, Vietnam (Flickr)

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.