1899 Harriman Expedition

SS George W. Elder

SS. George W. Elder at Sitka, 1899

Edward H. Harriman was a wealthy railroad magnate, one of the most powerful men in America, with control of several railroads, but by early 1899 he was literally exhausted. His doctor decreed that he needed a long vacation, so Harriman decided to go to Alaska to hunt Kodiak bears, but rather than go alone, he conceived the idea of taking with him a community of scientists, artists, photographers, and naturalists to explore and document the Alaskan coastline.

The Harriman Alaska Expedition explored the coast of Alaska for almost two months, in June and July 1899, aboard the 250-foot steamship George W. Elder, which Harrison had refitted for the expedition with lecture rooms, a library with over 500 volumes on Alaska, a stable for animals, taxidermy studios, and luxurious rooms for his passengers.

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Expedition members pose on beach at deserted Cape Fox village, 1899, photo: Edward S. Curtis.

Those passengers included many of the best American scientists, artists, and photographers of the time, such as John Muir, Edward Curtis, William Dall, Henry Gannett, George Bird Grinnell, and many other botanists, biologists, geologists, artists and photographers. Harriman also brought a medical team, a chaplain, hunters and packers, guides, and taxidermists. He brought his family and his servants, and with the crew of the Elder, the total number of people on the ship was 126.

Barry Glacier

Barry Glacier, Prince William Sound

The scientific reports of the Harriman Alaska Expedition included maps and charts showing the over 9,000 mile expedition route and geographical features of the coast. As with most scientific expeditions, the surveys and resulting maps were based on the work of earlier surveys and on the findings during the expedition itself.

Harriman Alaska Expedition at Wikipedia

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Harriman Alaska Expedition Collection, 1899-1900

• University of Washington Libraries Digital Collection of Harriman Expedition Photographs: 254 photographs, including images of Alaskan Native Americans and their villages, scenic views of the coastline, glaciers and Alaskan towns.

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Polmoniums from Kadiak

• The greatest benefit of the expedition turned out to be the sizable published record of the journey, which Harriman financed. The fourteen-volume Harriman Alaska Series was published by Doubleday beginning in 1901, and remains a landmark of Arctic exploration. The series is available as free downloads:

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Map of the voyage by Henry Gannett

 

 

 

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