WASHINGTON -- Robert Breeden, a top officer with the National Geographic Society who helped launch a series of popular books about the White House and magazines such as National Geographic Traveler, died March 15 at his home in McLean, Va. He was 87.
The cause was a brain tumor, said his daughter, Cynthia Scudder.
Breeden was an assistant illustrations editor at National Geographic Magazine when he was tapped in 1961 by Melville Grosvenor, president of the society, to create the White House's first official guidebook.
"The White House: An Historic Guide" was published in 1962 in conjunction with the White House Historical Association, a nonprofit that uses book sale proceeds to support White House refurbishment and acquisitions.
He worked closely with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in designing the book. "She selected every item that we photographed, read every word, looked at every layout, selected every type face. She was a delight to work with," Breeden told The Washington Post in 1994.
It was a bestseller. Breeden told The Post the first edition, which cost $1, sold 250,000 copies within 90 days. The text has since appeared in more than 20 editions and has sold millions of copies.
Breeden then persuaded Grosvenor to start an independent book publishing enterprise, National Geographic's special-publications division.
Starting in 1962, Breeden oversaw sales that would rise to more than 100 million books and a staff of nearly 300 employees.
He founded in 1975 what became National Geographic Kids, one of the nation's most widely read children's magazines. National Geographic Traveler Magazine followed in 1984. Breeden left National Geographic in 1991 but continued to hold the title of trustee emeritus.
His wife of 64 years, Hilda Rushing Breeden, died in 2011. Survivors include his daughter, Cynthia Scudder of Annapolis, Md.; and two granddaughters.