Secretary and Outdoorsman: Alexander Wetmore

Experience the outdoors during National Camping Month.

Alexander Wetmore embarks on a trip in El Uracillo, Coclé, Panama, 1952

June is National Camping Month, and to celebrate we are recognizing one of the Smithsonian’s original outdoorsmen: Alexander Wetmore.  The Smithsonian’s sixth Secretary thrived outside. Annually for 20 years Wetmore would make the trip south to Panama, to the same spot, Isla Iguana. There he would conduct his observations, record data, and of course take photographs, on what is known today as the Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge. Wetmore even snapped serval pictures of his open air summer camp, being sure to include some of the locals he met. As an ornithologist, his main goal on the expedition was to study birds for his book “The Birds of the Republic of Panama,” a five-volume publication released between 1965 and 1984.

Wetmore loved spending his time out in the field observing birds in their natural habitat. Through his photographs, writing, and detailed descriptions, you can gain an appreciation for just how much dedication he put into his work, and how he truly embodies the mission of the Smithsonian. Researchers and scientists still use Wetmore’s observations from these expeditions in their work.

Although Wetmore’s annual journeys concluded in 1966, new life is constantly being breathed into his work, through our crowdsourcing platform, the Transcription Center. Together with the tireless efforts of Transcription Center Volunpeers, we have been able to transcribe hundreds of pages of Wetmore’s work. In fact, you can join us, as we are always rolling out new material to be transcribed, such as his newly released notes on waterfowls in the American Southwest from the summer of 1918.  So come camping with us in the style of Wetmore this summer, on the Transcription Center. Let's take our hats off to the men and women that go out and explore our world, by keeping their work alive for generations to come!

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