Barry Bishop

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Cincinnati, Ohio
Birth Sign
Cincinnati, Ohio

Barry Bishop was a mountaineer and photographer from the United States of America. He was a member of the first American team to summit Mount Everest on May 22, 1963. He worked for the National Geographic Society for the majority of his career and was also a distinguished scientist and scholar. From an early age, he was adventurous and brimming with energy. At the age of nine or ten, he joined the Colorado Mountaineering Club. By the time he was 12, he had quickly picked up mountaineering skills from the club’s more experienced members and was guiding expeditions in the Rockies and Tetons. His passion for the mountains prompted him to study geology in college, earning a Bachelor of Science in 1954 and a master’s degree in geography from Northwestern University in 1957. Throughout his college years, he continued his mountaineering adventures and studied shear moraines on Greenland’s ice cap. Following a stint in the Air Force, where he oversaw international scientific programs in polar research, he was hired by the National Geographic Society as Picture Editor for ‘National Geographic’; he remained with the organization until his retirement in 1994. He gained international prominence in 1963 as a member of the first American team to summit Mount Everest.

Childhood & Early Life

Barry Chapman Bishop was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 13, 1932. His father, Robert Wilson Bishop, was a sociologist who later served as dean of the University of Cincinnati, and his mother, Helen Rebecca Bishop, was an English major. He developed into an extremely energetic young man, and his mother enrolled him in YMCA outdoor classes to help him channel his boundless energy. When he was nine or ten years old, the young boy developed a strong interest in outdoor activities and joined the Colorado Mountaineering Club.

He was mentored at the club by accomplished mountaineers who were also members of the 10th Mountain Division. Barry quickly picked up mountaineering skills under their tutelage and was guiding expeditions in the Rockies and Tetons by the age of 12. He also excelled in school, honing his public speaking and writing skills. His passion for the mountains prompted him to major in geology in college, and he graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in geology.

In the summer of 1951, as part of his undergraduate research, he conducted field work in the Mt. McKinley area. He continued his education at Northwestern University, where he conducted research on shear moraines on Greenland’s icecap. During his time there, he met Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, a renowned polar explorer who would play a significant role in Bishop’s future career. In 1954–1955, he earned a master’s degree in geography.

Career of Barry

Barry Bishop had a long-held ambition to work for Byrd. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1955 and was assigned as a scientific advisor to Byrd’s staff and his successor Admiral Dufek at the Antarctic Projects Office in Washington, D.C. the following year. He oversaw international scientific programs in polar research during this time. In late 1956–57, he served as the Official United States Observer with the Argentine Antarctic Expedition.

In 1958, he was honorably discharged from the Air Force. Bishop had already amassed considerable expertise as a mountaineer, polar scientist, photographer, and explorer at the tender age of 27. His photographic abilities earned him a position as Picture Editor for ‘National Geographic’ at the National Geographic Society in 1959. In the years that followed, he quickly rose through the ranks and was hired as a photographer for the magazine in 1960. Around this time, Sir Edmund Hillary, a prominent mountaineer, learned of Bishop’s work on shear moraines and invited him to join the 1960–1961 Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition.

Bishop served as the official glaciologist and climatologist for the expedition. Bishop, along with expedition members Mike Gill, Mike Ward, and Wally Romanes, made the historic first ascent of Ama Dablam during the expedition. His accomplishments on this expedition, combined with his breathtaking photographs, earned him a spot on the National Geographic Society’s board of directors and widespread acclaim. His growing reputation as a mountaineer earned him an invitation to join the 1963 American Everest Expedition, which set out to climb Mount Everest for the first time in the United States.

On May 22, 1963, Barry Bishop and his teammates Jim Whittaker, Lute Jerstad, Willi Unsoeld, and Tom Hornbein successfully ascended Mount Everest, becoming the first American team to do so. This feat, however, came at a cost: he suffered severe frostbite and lost all of his toes and the tip of his little finger. His career as a technical climber came to an end with the loss of his toes, and he shifted his focus to academics. In 1966, he enrolled in the University of Chicago’s geography Ph.D. program. His dissertation was a cultural-ecological analysis of western Nepal’s Karnali Zone.

In 1980, the lengthy dissertation was finally published. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, he continued to work for the National Geographic Society. In 1984, he was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration; in 1989, he was appointed Chairman. In 1983 and 1985, he also led Himalayan research expeditions and continued to write for ‘National Geographic.’ He stepped down in 1994.

Awards & Achievements

In 1963, Barry Bishop and his team were awarded the Hubbard Medal by President John F. Kennedy for their achievement of becoming the first American team to summit Mount Everest. Following his death, the National Geographic Society honored him posthumously with the Distinguished Geography Educator award in recognition of a life that “reflected National Geographic’s mission of increasing and diffusing geographic knowledge.”

Personal Life & Legacy

Barry Bishop married Lila Mueller in 1955. The couple had two children. He died in an automobile accident on September 24, 1994.

Estimated Net Worth

Barry Bishop’s net worth or earnings are estimated to be between $1 million and $4 million. He has amassed such wealth through his primary career as a climber.