Point of Beginning

Jack Dangermond and Roger Tomlinson receive National Geographic's Bell Medal

July 15, 2010

WASHINGTON - The National Geographic Society today awarded Alexander Graham Bell Medals to two visionary geographers and geographic information systems (GIS) pioneers - Dr. Roger Tomlinson, known as “the father of GIS,” and Jack Dangermond, a trailblazer in spatial analysis methods.

The Alexander Graham Bell Medal, named for the inventor and the second president of the National Geographic Society, is awarded for extraordinary achievement in geographic research. Bell’s great-grandson, National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor, presented the medals to Tomlinson and Dangermond at the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) International User Conference in San Diego.

“Roger and Jack have dedicated their lives to advancing the science of GIS, transforming the field of geography and bringing the use of geographic information to virtually every field of human endeavor and every corner of the globe,” Grosvenor said.

British-born Tomlinson, now of Ottawa, Canada, conceived and developed GIS in the 1960s for use by the Canada Land Inventory. His pioneering work changed the face of geography as a discipline. Governments and scientists around the world have turned to him to better understand the environment and changing patterns of land use, and to better manage urban development and the use of natural resources.

Tomlinson’s contributions include chairmanship of the International Geographic Union’s GIS Commission for 12 years, where he pioneered the concepts of worldwide geographical data availability. He is a past president of the Canadian Association of Geographers and a recipient of its rare Award for Service to the Profession. The Association of American Geographers in the United States awarded him the James R. Anderson Medal of Honor for Applied Geography in 1995. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and winner of its prestigious Murchison Award for the Development of Geographic Information Systems. In 1996 he was awarded the GIS World Lifetime Achievement Award for a lifetime of work with GIS, and he was the first recipient of the ESRI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. He was awarded the Order of Canada, that country’s highest civilian honor, in 2004.

Tomlinson is the principal of Tomlinson Associates, Ltd., Consulting Geographers, which was established in 1977 in Ottawa.

A landscape architect by training, Dangermond, president of ESRI, is one of the founding fathers of GIS technology and is considered to be one of the most influential people in GIS. For more than 40 years he has been an outspoken proponent of GIS as one of the most promising decision-making tools for urban, regional, environmental and global problems. ESRI, which he and his wife founded in 1969, has the largest GIS software install base in the world, with over 1 million users in more than 300,000 organization representing business, government, NGOs and academia. The company, headquartered in Redlands, Calif., is known internationally for GIS software development, training and services.

Dangermond has been a leader and visionary in the field, promoting GIS technology beyond that of his own company. He has delivered keynote addresses at international conferences, published hundreds of papers and given thousands of presentations. His passion for GIS and its application to solving problems, particularly for the causes of the environment and the less empowered in society, is well known throughout the industry.

He has been awarded 10 honorary doctorates and received a number of awards, including the Carl Mannerfelt Medal from the International Cartographic Association in 2008, the Public-Private Partnership Award from the National Governors Association in 2009 and the Patron’s Medal from the Royal Geographical Society in June 2010.

National Geographic’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal has only been awarded once before. Bradford and Barbara Washburn, renowned explorers, mountaineers and mapmakers, received it in 1980 for their contributions to geography and cartography.


The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 375 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 9,200 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit 
nationalgeographic.com.