Who are the Adventurous Billionaires in Manhattan’s Exclusive Explorers Club?

The 120-year-old society's roster of members includes notable names from engineering, Hollywood, royalty and real estate.

Since 1904, scientists and the wealthy elite have quietly gathered in a six-story Jacobean mansion on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to discuss their adventures in unforgiving environments like low-earth orbit and the depths of the sea. The Explorers Club, while private, is far from secretive, however. Established in 1904, the club has long been a meeting place for affluent explorers from around the globe, and the exploits of its members are the stuff of legend, good and bad. It made headlines last week when two members, the British billionaire Hamish Harding and French maritime expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, died on the Titan submersible when it imploded on its way to the Titanic shipwreck.

Two rows show eight photographs of the high-profile men in the club
A host of high-profile people, including many billionaires, have joined the club since its inception. Observer

Founded nearly 120 years ago by historian and explorer Henry Collins Walsh, the club describes itself as a “multidisciplinary, professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration and resource conservation.” Past members include iconic figures like pilot Amelia Earhart, aviator Charles Lindbergh, journalist Walter Cronkite, astronaut Neil Armstrong and former president Teddy Roosevelt, who was elected to the group in 1915. The group’s members have been the first to reach the North Pole, South Pole, Mount Everest summit, Mariana Trench and surface of the moon—often carrying an Explorers Club flag in their belongings.

While the club has more than 30 national and international chapters, its been headquartered since 1965 in a lavish townhouse on East 70th Street, which houses artifacts from the club’s century of exploration, including Indigenous totems found by Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea and a coffee table made from the scraps of a ship that survived the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

Man walks by elegant, brick building with large marble entrance
The Explorers Club headquarters in New York City. AFP via Getty Images

Becoming a member of the Explorers Club is a feat in and of itself. In addition to receiving recommendations from current members, applicants must have participated in one or more documented scientific expeditions. Tourism, even if it entails traversing the ocean bottom or the emptiness of space, doesn’t count, according to club rules. Today, the exclusive organization has just 3,500 members worldwide. In a roster that includes prominent figures from aerospace, film and even royalty, these are some of the most notable names:

Jeff Bezos

The third-wealthiest person in the world, Jeff Bezos has been a longtime member of the Explorers Club and was elected honorary chair in 2021. “We live in an era of dynamism and growth, and it’s up to us to pass that along to our grandchildren and their grandchildren,” he said in a statement. “The innovations, discoveries and optimism shared by the members of the Explorers Club are inspiring future generations to solve some of the Earth’s greatest challenges, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Bezos, whose brother Mark is also a club member, was awarded the Buzz Aldrin Space Exploration Award by the Explorers Club in 2018 for his work on Blue Origin. “What would we be without a place to explore?” asked the billionaire as he accepted the award, which is granted to individuals for their accomplishments in outer space.

The Amazon founder also received the club’s Citation of Merit in 2014 for helping lead a team that successfully recovered F-1 rocket engines used during NASA’s Apollo projects in the 1960s and 1970s. The crew carried an Explorers Club flag throughout the mission.

Frederik Paulsen

Frederik Paulsen, the Swedish chairman of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, has been a member of the club since 2002. With an estimated net worth of $7.4 billion, he has so far been on three Explorers Club flag expeditions consisting of trips to the North Pole at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, the Ecuadorian volcano Chimborazo and the Altai Mountains in Siberia.

Paulsen received the club’s Lowell Thomas Award in 2014 after becoming the first person to tour all eight of the Earth’s poles. “I have a lot on my CV, but this makes me the proudest,” he told Forbes. He is currently an honorary director of the Explorers Club and a regular patron of the group, having made donations of more than $100,000 in both 2022 and 2021.

Prince Albert II of Monaco

Another surprising name on the list of billionaires in the Explorer’s Club is Prince Albert II, an honorary director of the organization. In September, the billionaire prince announced the World Sky Race at the Explorers Club, a race around the world with airships that will grant $5 million to the winner. Prince Albert is an advisory director of the race, alongside several other Explorers Club members.

Prince Albert has embarked on his own adventures, having become the first head of state to reach both poles through his participation in research expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. The royal received the Lowell Thomas Award in 2017 from the Explorers Club, which celebrated his “dedication to the protection of the environment and focuses on fighting climate change, promoting renewable energy, combating the loss of biodiversity, and preserving water resources through his Prince Albert II Foundation.”

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, currently the world’s richest person, is an awardee of the club. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO received the President’s Award for Exploration and Technology in 2014 for his development of revolutionary technology regarding both space exploration and sustainable transportation. “Hopefully one day we’ll be taking many of the people in this room to orbit and beyond,” said Musk when he accepted the award. The billionaire also discussed his plans to create a reusable rocket system, establish life on Mars and make the human species “multi-planetary.”

While it’s unclear whether Musk is currently a member of the Explorers Club, then-club president Richard Weisse referred to him as such in a May 2020 Instagram post discussing a successful spaceflight launch from SpaceX in which he said, “Congratulations Explorers Club member Elon Musk and SpaceX for a successful launch and a reminder that exploration is alive and well.”

Edward Roski

The president of real estate company Majestic Realty, Edward Roski is also a member and honorary director of the elite private club. His current net worth is estimated to total $6.1 billion.

Roski’s explorations have spanned visits to Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest and the Titanic wreck, which he completed in a Russian submersible. He has also taken bike trips across Mongolia, Russia and Burma and made several deep-water dives throughout New Guinea.

The real estate tycoon is among the club members who have paid to have their name engraved in a tile at the club’s headquarters. Described by the Explorers Club as an “avid cyclist, mountain climber, and accomplished wilderness diver who has dedicated his civic efforts to promoting cultural education,” Roski was awarded its Lowell Thomas Award in 2014.

Who else is in the Explorers Club?

Membership in the Explorers Club isn’t just for those at the top of Forbes’ annual list of the World’s Billionaires, however. While many of the club’s members are wealthy, net worth is far less important than an applicant’s accomplishments.

In addition to his work as an Academy Award-winning director behind renowned films like Titanic and Avatar, member James Cameron is an accomplished traveler of the earth’s most unexplored areas. The filmmaker has made more than 70 submersible dives, including 33 to visit the shipwreck of the Titanic.

In 2012, he co-designed and engineered a submersible which he used to travel nearly seven miles undersea to the depths of the Mariana Trench. The accomplishment earned him the club’s Explorers Medal, its highest honor and one that has also been granted to the likes of former president Herbert Hoover, astronaut Buzz Aldrin and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Cameron became a fully-fledged member of the club in 2020. Other Explorers Club members spent four years convincing Cameron to submit an application, according to Business Insider, as the director initially didn’t believe he was qualified to join.

Meanwhile, the president of the Explorers Club since 2021, Richard Garriott, is the son of NASA astronaut Owen Garriott. After working as a videogame developer on the “Ultima” game series and creating the term “avatar” to refer to one’s virtual self, Garriott became an astronaut in his own right and traveled to the International Space Station in 2008.

He also co-founded Space Adventures, a company that provides space flights for citizens, and officiated the first-ever zero-gravity wedding. Garriott has since become the first explorer to have orbited pole to pole, orbited the earth and reached the deepest point of the ocean.

The club president made a number of public statements about the implosion of the Titan submersible and the deaths of Explorers Club members Harding (a founding member of the club’s board of trustees and head of its Middle East Chapter) and Nargeolet (a renowned Titanic expert who joined the club in 2001). “They were both drawn to explore, like so many of us, and did so in the name of meaningful science for the betterment of mankind,” he said on June 22. “We’re heartbroken for the families, friends and colleagues of those who were lost.”

Who are the Adventurous Billionaires in Manhattan’s Exclusive Explorers Club?