The Explorer’s Club

Basic Pan pipes, like I received from Commander Whitehall

I’m always hesitant to write about more obscure memories. After all, just three months after putting this site up for the first time, we already have a nice amount of traffic in the form of reminiscing Baby Boomers. I don’t want to discuss things they don’t remember, but on the other hand, maybe they’ve been looking for info about the same obscure factoid. So here goes.

I was unable to find ANYTHING on the web about Commander Whitehall’s Explorer’s Club. So I’m operating on memory alone. Fortunately, my memory is pretty good.

Mrs. Cox, my third grade teacher, introduced the class to the Explorer’s Club. It cost about $5.00 a month, and a child would receive a box in the mail filled with genuine treasures from all over the world.

When your eagerly anticipated package would arrive, you would rip it open to discover a flexi-disc record, a brochure with pictures of the featured land, and, best of all, a trinket from that country!

I was in the club for six or seven months before dad decided that $5.00 a month was too much to spend. But during those months, I learned a tremendous amount about other nations.

Commander Whitehall would narrate the record, filled with sounds of the land he was in at the time in the background. It was killer stuff, and it wasn’t unusual to listen to the recording ten of fifteen times while playing with my monthly treasure.

I can recall three of the items I received. Apparently, Commander Whitehall was actually touring these countries, because all of the ones mentioned during my too-short membership were in South America. I got a set of pan pipes from Peru that looked just like the pictured ones. I also got a “pipette” as he called it, a miniature non-functioning pipe with a person’s face carved in the bowl. And I got a little drum-on-a-stick that you operated by twirling between your hands. Sadly, I don’t remember what countries the latter two delights came from.

I also recall that dad got into a fight with the Explorer’s Club when he tried to quit. They sent a final package that he didn’t want to pay for. All he got was letters demanding payment, because we were living in rural Missouri at the time, and didn’t have a phone yet!

But despite dad’s bad experience with Commander Whitehall’s Explorer’s Club, it is still a precious memory for me, and it made me curious enough about geography that I grew up to be one of those exceptional adults who can pick out South America on a world map ;-).

13 thoughts on “The Explorer’s Club”

  1. I too was in Commander Whitehall’s Explorer’s Club or World Explorers Program. I have fond memories of the anticipation of waiting for the mail to come from the Commanders Club. I still have some of the records as well as some of the gifts you talk about on your blog. Thought I would share some photos of the records as well as some of the gifts with you but not sure how to put pictures on here?

  2. What a delight it was to receive those packages. The only thing I still have is my Explorers Club Pin. In addition to the pan pipes, pipette, and drum, I recall a pair of woven sandals and a clothe covered folding pencil holder. My favorite was the abacus which I learned how to use. One thing I never figured out was this reed-like thing w/ large brown flattish-like bean things stacked on each other at the top (two or three) w/ a string w/ 1/2 bean cut open and scooped out and dry-couldn’t understand what it was for. I just remembered, I still have this tiny dried red bean w/ a stopper in it and inside are very tiny carved ivory animals. So w/ my pin, that makes two things I still have. The booklets and records are long gone, but I still recall Commander Whitehall’s voice on those thin records: “This is Commander Whitehall coming to you from……………………..” Wonderful memories of a time I felt very special to be singled out to get that package each month.

    1. I just found my World Explorer books and trinkets when cleaning out my mother’s house. Alas no records.

      The thing with the large brown flattish beans was a spinning top/yo-yo-like toy. You held onto the bottom bean and pulled the string and then let it rewind by itself and pull again.

      I still have that with the pan pipe, the wooden recorder, a carved zebra?, tiny wooden shoes, a wooden finger puppet, the pencil holder thing and a couple others.

  3. Thank you for posting such a great childhood memory!! What stands out is the little bead with the ivory elephants… and something about some ink you could make…..I remember how the Explorer’s Club package was so mysterious and I couldn’t wait to open it. Wish I still had these treasures~!

  4. I was in that Explorer’s Club too for a little while. Had to quit when my dad retired from the USAF and it was time to relocate again (something we did for like, every two years). That move was in November 1969.
    All of the items I’d received from that club, I think I still have them packed away in one of the many boxes stashed somewhere in my house or storage shed in the back yard. Maybe one day soon I’ll try to go through them and see if I can find it.

  5. OMG! So happy to hear these stories from my comrades of the World Explorer’s Club. I was a member too in the 70s and it sparked my life-long love for travel and world culture. I spent over thirty years working in corporate America to finally leave and begin a travel agency, which has been an absolute joy in which to work, even during this pandemic. I think of Commander Whitehall often and how instrumental he was in lighting my fire for travel. I think about how amazing it would be for kids to have that in their school curriculum today like I did. It sure was a fun way to have some understanding of the world and the people in it. That’s what the world needs now, respect for and understanding of humankind. By the way, I do believe that drum with the handle and the two beads on string that you twirled around to beat the drums was from Japan. I also remember that pan flute from Ecuador. I’m doing a big purge in my deceased parents home right now and hoping to come across some of these things from Commander Whitehall.

  6. Yay! I was trying to find any mention online and was having no luck, but here you are! I love that many others are posting and remembering some of the little gifts that I’d forgotten. I also remember that they often had a vegetative smell that was very different than anything in my surroundings. At the time I found Commander Whitehall a little cheesy (I had illusions of grandeur), but now it’s a cherished memory. Thanks for this!

  7. I loved my Commander Whitehall time. I’m sure I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. The first few records I received, I accidentally played them at a faster speed on the record player. The good Commander had a voice like an opera star, which I thought was great. Then I learned how to operate my cheap record player and he had a normal voice.

  8. Hey everyone,
    Enjoyed reading all the posts. I was a member of the World Explorer’s Club. I have such fond memories of receiving each monthly package and totally absorbing the contents – rereading the booklets, playing the record over and over. I also still have some of the artifacts and I guess I still treasure them. I’ve been a lifelong traveler and I believe the club gave me my start. Cheers!

  9. This is so fun reading all of the comments about the World Explores club and Commander Whitehall. I loved all the gifts and especially the map and record from each country. It affected my decision to study urban planning and become an Urban Planner.

  10. In Connecticut in the 1960’s, I and a number of my elementary school classmates were members of this club. The items I received are all long gone, but I remember what many of them were: An abacus from Japan, a fish “kite” also from Japan, a wooden Mexican toy consisting of a cup on the end of a handle with a ball attached with string, cowrie shells and brass bells from India, wind chimes made from flat sea shells, the tiny carved elephants, the wooden pipe, and other things I can’t recall. My parents were fairly poor, but they bought me things like this that enhanced my education and sense of wonder. Fond memories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *