Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899)

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Originally proposed as a hunting expedition, Edward Harriman transformed his 1899 family vacation into a two month scientific exploring expedition to Alaska, with the advice of Clinton Hart Merriam, Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey. Harriman and his family, accompanied expedition participants, traveled to Alaska aboard the S.S. George W. Elder. In the end, the work of the many researchers resulted in vast amounts of valuable scientific data, including the discovery of a new glacier and an array of floral and faunal specimens. Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Washington Academy of Sciences collaborated to fund the entire expedition, and Harriman chose researchers with diverse scientific backgrounds in order to collaborate on all fields of plant, animal, and earth science. Many of the specimens collected were deposited in the United States National Museum, including large collections of birds and mollusks. The expedition left Seattle May 30th, headed for Cook Inlet, skirting the Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea, Bogoslof Volcano, Pribilof Islands, up to islands of St. Matthew and St. Lawrence. Parties landed at Glacier Bay, Yakutat Bay, Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, Shumagin Islands. Collections included birds and mammals from “coastal regions”, shell and botanical fossils. Voyage destinations were determined by committee of heads of research (at Harriman’s request). After the expedition ended, the scientists published a 13 volume document called The Reports. Even though The Reports was the most comprehensive book on Alaskan botany at the time, the expedition was merely an investigation and was by no means a complete survey of Alaskan plant life. Scientific members of the expedition included: William H. Brewer (Yale University); John Burroughs (ornithologist and author); Wesley R. Coe (Assistant Professor of Comparative Anatomy, Yale University); Frederick Coville (US Department of Agriculture); William Healey Dall (US Geological Survey); Daniel G. Elliot (Curator of Zoology, Field Museum); Benjamin K. Emerson (Professor of Geology, Amherst College); B. E. Fernow (Dean, School of Forestry, Cornell University); A. K. Fisher (Ornithologist, US Biological Survey); Henry Gannett (Chief Geographer, US Geological Survey); G. K. Gilbert, (Geologist, US Geological Survey); George Bird Grinnell (Editor, Field and Stream); Thomas H. Kearney, Jr. (Botanist, US Department of Agriculture); Charles A Heeler, (Director, Museum California Academy of Sciences); Trevor Kincaid (Professor of Zoology, University of Washington); C. Hart Merriam (Chief, US Biological Survey); John Muir; Charles Palache (mineralogist, Harvard University); Robert Ridgway (Curator of Birds, US National Museum); William E. Ritter (President, California Academy of Sciences); De Alton Saunders (botanist, South Dakota Experiment station); William Trelease, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden.


  • PBS. "The 1899 Expedition." The Harriman Expedition Retraced, n.d. http://www.pbs.org/harriman/1899/1899.html.
  • Burroughs, John; Muir, John; Grinnell, George. Alaska (Vol I). New York : Doubleday, Page, & Company. 1904. Retrieved from http://archive.org/details/alaska01harr
  • Goetzmann, William H., and Kay Sloan. Looking Far North. The Viking Press, 1982.
  • Litwin, Thomas S. The Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced. Rutgers University Press 2005.
  • University of Washington Libraries. "Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899." Digital Collections, n.d. http://content.lib.washington.edu/harrimanweb/index.html.

Date Range

1899 - 1899


  • Animals
  • Geology
  • Malacology
  • Zoology
  • Birds
  • Mammalogy
  • Plants
  • Paleontology
  • Botany
  • Ornithology


  • United States
  • Alaska


Expedition name