How Lance Geiger became a YouTube star with ‘The History Guy’
Lance Geiger took an unusual path to YouTube stardom.
In 2015, the O’Fallon, Illinois, resident was laid off from his job as a corporate trainer for a health insurance company. He had exhausted the money from his severance package, and so a couple of years later he turned to a lifelong interest — telling stories.
In 2017, Geiger launched “The History Guy” on YouTube. Recently, the channel surpassed 1 million subscribers, and his videos have amassed more than 161 million total views.
“People all the time through my whole life would say, ‘You should make a living doing [YouTube],’” Geiger explained on St. Louis on the Air. “I just had no idea how to. It was really when I was kind of forced to that I figured it out.”
It wasn’t easy. Geiger was about one month away from quitting before one of his videos went viral. It was about the 1956 emergency ocean-landing of Pan American Flight 6.
After that video went viral, YouTube sent a check for a couple of hundred dollars in spring 2018. Said Geiger, “By August it was paying my mortgage.” His most popular video ("Robertson, Phillips, and the History of the Screwdriver") has amassed more than 2.7 million views.
But, what exactly made the channel take off?
The bow-tied, bespectacled narrator of the straightforward, fact-filled accounts isn’t 100% sure. His look is most certainly part of it, as is the quality and volume of content.
“The way that YouTube works, the more you're seen, the more they put you in front of people so that you'll be seen more,” he said. “So when you're small, it's very, very difficult to grow.”
Geiger also said he’s been lucky. But he doesn’t take that luck for granted. “It's a lot of work. I mean, you got to treat it like a job,” he said.
The money he’s received from YouTube has allowed Geiger to employ two others. He has a business agent, and his 30-year-old son works for him. Josh Geiger writes about half of the YouTube scripts and hosts “The History Guy” podcast.
“It's a dream to be able to work with him. He's amazing,” Geiger said. “He lives in Wyoming, so I don't get to see him all the time. And to provide a salary for him to do what he loves, I mean, that is living the dream.”
Despite his success on YouTube, publishing a steady flow of new videos every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Geiger is looking to diversify his revenue stream. He’s excited about a new partnership with Magellan TV that’ll be available through Apple TV, Fire TV and others.
As for whether you might see Geiger on TikTok, the social media app that features short and often funny clips — don’t count on it.
“I don't know if that’s my format. I'm not sure how much history I can fit into it.” he said. “But you know, I'll think about it.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.