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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


C. Hart Merriam


C. Hart Merriam

C. Hart Merriam, photographed in California by Lawrence V. Compton in 1910.
Source: California Academy of Sciences.
Hart Merriam was truly a boy wonder. At age 8, he began studying small mammals in his back yard in upstate New York. By 12, he'd built an impressive collection of mammal and insect specimens. At 16, he traveled with the Hayden Survey to Yellowstone and the western territories. A year later, he published his first scientific report -- a fifty-page treatise on western mammals.

Merriam studied science at Yale and medicine at Columbia. He practiced for a few years as a physician, but by the time he was 30, he had returned to pure science, and was heading up bird and mammal studies for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. As he revolutionized the techniques for preparing specimens for study, organized and led many biological expeditions, and took charge of an ever-growing circle of scientists, his reputation grew. It was little wonder that, when Edward Harriman needed help with his proposed Alaska Expedition, he turned first to C. Hart Merriam.

Merriam was able to bring together an eminent staff of professionals in a very short time, a feat all the more impressive when one remembers that the telephone had yet to be invented. For two months, Merriam contacted men by mail, telegram and in person. On May 31, Harriman's boat was filled with leaders from every branch of study.

On the trip itself, Merriam had a good deal to say about the boat's route, about the field excursions for recreation and study. He found time for science work as well, and wrote the overview essay on the volcanic island of Bogoslof. He also took part in many of the trips ashore, including an exhausting 24 hour hike across a stormy ice field to the Howling Valley in Glacier Bay. The exploration left him nearly crippled with rheumatism in one knee.

When the trip was over, Harriman appointed Merriam overseer of research and editor of the books that would result from the expedition. Eventually Mrs. Harriman set up a trust that gave Merriam $12,000 a year for life, allowing him time to finish the multi-volume report on every aspect of knowledge gleaned from the adventure. He also took to ethnography, and, well into his 80s, was doing field work with the Indian tribes of California. He died in 1942, at the age of 89.




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

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