John Garver

1928 - 2005

John Garver, former Chief Cartographer for National Geographic, died on May 22, 2005. Born July 11, 1928, he earned his BS at the U.S. Military Academy a West Point in 1952. Recognizing his keen geographical intellect and leadership potential in the classroom the Army sent him to Syracuse University in 1963 for training to teach geography at West Point. He completed his MA in 1965 and became and instructor in the Department of Earth, Space and Graphic Sciences at West Point in 1966. In 1969-70, he served as Parachute and Ranger and earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge while commanding an Infantry Battalion in the Vietnam War and also served as deputy commander of a brigade. He was awarded numerous medals, including four Bronze Stars—two of these for valor. Other assignments took him around the world to various military installations in Germany, the Panama Canal Zone, Saudi Arabia, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Benning, Georgia.

Following these assignments, he again returned to West Point as a Professor of Geography and was awarded his PhD from Syracuse in 1981 completing his dissertation topic on the “The Role of the United States Army in the Colonization of the Trans-Missouri West: Kansas, 1804-1861”. Meanwhile, he initiated two academic programs within the Geography Department at West Point that are still active today. The first is degree program in Environmental Engineering that focuses on global environmental concerns and the role of military. The second program, “Military Geography.” was John’s forte and incorporates historical geography at its core. During his time at West Point he hosted geographers, environmentalists, mountaineers, and American icons for on-campus lectures, as well as countless guests and former classmates from a broad spectrum of disciplines.

Garver was the author of several papers on and publications on geographic subjects including Landscape Atlas of the USSR and Selected Aspects of the Geography of Poverty. In 1982 he retired as Colonel from West Point and soon assumed the position of Senior Assistant Editor and Chief Cartographer for the Cartographic Division at the National Geographic Society (NGS). During his career at NGS he led the transition to computer cartography and initiated many projects, including the “Making of America Series” with his former advisor Donald Meinig as chief editorial consultant (seventeen regional maps) and “Making of Canada” series (six maps), with R. Cole Harris and John Warkentin. Garver launched the renowned Historical Atlas of the United States prepared as the principal work in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the NGS. The atlas featured the work of historical geographers such as Donald Meinig, Peirce Lewis, Sam Hilliard, Wilbur Zelinsky, and Fred Kniffen as well as scholars in history, anthropology, folklore, and architecture. As president of the Washington Map Society in 1987–88 he continued to host many lectures and events to bring this community to his new front porch at NGS. He published an article in the Portolan entitled Isaac McCoy: Forgotten Mapper of the Trans-Missouri West. Two other major atlases were produced using state of the art technology and imagery—the Atlas of North America: Space Age Portrait of a Continent (1985) and the Sixth Edition Atlas of the World. Again, through his impressive network of scholars and explorers, he released the acclaimed NGS map of “The World” with Arthur Robinson’s projection in 1988, which spearheaded an iconic look and format for the next seven years in many geographic publications. He also sponsored several cartographers in residence during this period hosting Arthur Robinson, David Woodward, and Judy Olson for staff tutorials and lectures on innovations in cartography. With mountaineer and explorer Brad Washburn, he also produced the highly-awarded “Map of Mt. Everest” included in the December 1988 issue of National Geographic. Garver spearheaded a long-standing relationship with ESRI and paved the way for a viable and sustaining digital mapping process that is reflected in subsequent editions of the Atlas of the World, now in its 8th edition.

After ten years he retired from NGS in 1991. He continued his literary and academic pursuits with lectures and travels to all corners of the world. He was elected to the Cosmos Club in 1993.In 2002 he published an entry on “Military Geography” for the thirty-volume Encyclopedia of the Behavioral and Social Sciences by Elsevier Press, Oxford. He was in the process of writing a book about the role of the U.S. Army in the colonization of the pre-Civil War trans-Missouri West when he died.


John B. Garver Jr. (Necrology). 2005. AAG Newsletter 40(9): 23.