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Harriman Expedition Retraced



The 1899 Expedition
The 1899


Original Participants

Brief Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Aboard the

History of Exploration
Exploration &

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities


Edward H. Harriman


(Supplement: The Boyhood of E. H. Harriman)

Edward Harriman

Edward H. Harriman
Edward Henry Harriman was born in New Jersey in 1848. His father was an ordained deacon in the Presbyterian Church, his mother a well-connected socialite from New Jersey. Young Edward attended school in New Jersey and New York, but dropped out at age 14 to take a job as a Wall Street message boy. He moved up quickly, becoming a managing clerk and then, in 1870, a stock broker with a seat on the New York stock exchange

He began investing his own money in railway stocks, and even married into a railroad family. He had other interests, of course; as an adult he took boxing lessons, bought horses, and served as a private of the 7th Regiment of the National Guard. But in 1881, he bought his first rail company outright, thirty-four miles of track in upstate New York, and his name soon became synonymous with "railroad."

During the financial panic of the 1890s, Harriman was able to seize control of the Union Pacific railroad. In 1898 he made a tedious, day-light-hours-only trip from the Missouri River to the Pacific on that line, inspecting every mile, every station, every flatcar and engine. One superintendent said that "he saw every poor tie, blistered rail, and loose bolt." He fixed every problem, and within months had the ailing railroad in excellent health. But he himself was exhausted, and his doctor ordered him to take a little vacation.

There are many theories at to why Harriman chose an Alaskan cruise. Some claim he planned to build a railway across the territory, or perhaps that he originally just wanted to hunt the great grizzly. Others say it was because the cruise-turned-expedition would make Harriman appear better educated and more refined. (He was, after all, a grade school dropout.) Whatever the reason, he worked with lightning speed to make the trip happen. In a few short months, he enlisted C. Hart Merriam to choose the scientists for the trip. He refitted the steamer, the George W. Elder, plotted the itinerary, and arranged for travel to the port city of Seattle. The expedition that carried his name set sail on May 31, 1899.

Once underway, Harriman let it be known he intended, himself, to collect at least one major specimen of a large Alaskan mammal: he was obsessed with hunting bear, specifically the grizzly bear, the largest carnivore in the world. He even changed the itinerary when a local Indian guide reported that bears had been seen recently on the Kodiak Island in the Aleutians.

Once ashore on Kodiak, several guides and assistants flushed a sow and cub down a valley. The entire party took great care to ensure their patron's safety. Trevor Kincaid, the zoologist, recalled that, "lest the bear behave in an unpleasant manner a group of hunters were grouped about [Harriman] with enough firepower to tear the bear to pieces." But it was Harriman who shot and killed his prey.

"Nothing in his way could daunt him or abate one jot the vigor of his progress toward his aims, no matter what -- going ashore through heavy breakers, sailing uncharted fiords, pursuing bears, etc," wrote John Muir.

So it was when the watch espied a thin inlet of water behind the Barry Glacier. Harriman -- against warning of imminent grounding from both the captain and the pilot -- ordered the Elder to proceed into the passage at "full speed, rocks or no rocks." Harriman's determination paid off. The inlet opened up into a long fjord, revealing a shimmering glacial wonderland. Later, maps would call the waterway "Harriman Fjord" and the largest glacier along it, the "Harriman Glacier."

After the trip, Harriman paid for Merriam and a team of researchers to analyze and publish the data gathered on the voyage. He himself was plagued by ill health, business problems, even a serious charge of anti-trust violation; but he continued to support the work of the expedition well after the journey's end. John Muir said Harriman never stopped. He kept "his lieutenants about him, and through them and a telegraph wire kept in touch with all his work and world affair in general." Edward Harriman died at the family home, Arden, in New York's Ramapo Highlands, on September 9, 1909, at the age of 62. 




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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