Hassler Expedition (1871-1872)

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The Hassler Expedition was composed of a group of scientists invited to accompany the new U.S. Coast Survey Steamer, Hassler, when she sailed from the east coast to her assignment on the coast of California. Louis Agassiz led the team of scientists. Invitations were offered with the stipulation that the US government would not be responsible for scientist’s expenses, and that the ship would make stops for scientific purposes when possible, but at such a rate not to impact their timely arrival at their final destination. The voyage took place, December 1871 to August 1872. Scientific goals included deep-sea dredging to collect deep-sea specimens as well as amassing marine life to compare to fossils from earlier eras, as well as observe the glaciers and moraines of the Southern Andes. In addition to the collection of marine animal life, hundreds of samples of algae were pulled off the ocean’s floor, coastal rocks, and skimmed from the sea-surface. Professor Louis Agassiz of Harvard University was invited to lead the coastal voyage that would explore the sea at greater depths than ever before. Agassiz’s own personal objective was to “consider the whole Darwin Theory free from external influences and former prejudices,” by analyzing and evaluating the specimens collected. The steamer was commanded by Lieut. Commander Phillip R. Johnson, U.S.N., was equipped with new technologies for the purpose of probing the life at the bottom of the sea and was described by Agassiz as, “potentially the most significant accomplishment in ocean science since the voyages of Captain Cook.” Staff included Count L.F. Pourtales (oversaw deep-sea dredging); Dr. Hill and Dr. White (physicists); Dr. Franz Steindachner of the Royal Vienna Museum (specimen collector); J. H. Blake (artist and assistant). Thomas Hill, a former President of Harvard, was employed as the official botanist of the expedition. Both Mrs. Agassiz and Mrs. Johnson joined the voyage. According to the Annual Report of the Coast Survey, over 7,000 specimens were accumulated over the course of the eight month exploration. Many specimens were sent to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, while others were sent to the Smithsonian Institution. The Hassler Expedition was just the beginning of scientific exploration into the deep-sea. The official report states that a vast variety and volume of specimens were discovered, many of which were previously unknown.


  • Dana, James, and B Silliman. "Scientific Intelligence." The American Journal of Science and Arts 3 (1872): 154.
  • NOAA. "2007 Hassler Expedition - The 1871 Hassler Expedition ." NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries: Oceans, Marine Life, Shipwrecks, Diving, Whales. http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/maritime/expeditions/hassler/expedition.html.
  • "Chaetomorpha linum - Microcosm Aquarium Explorer." Your Portal to Aquatic Discovery - Microcosm Aquarium Explorer. http://en.microcosmaquariumexplorer.com/wiki/Chaetomorpha_linum.
  • "Sargassum (algae genus) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/524242/Sargassum.
  • Harvard University. "Open Collections Program: Expeditions and Discoveries, Hassler Expedition to South America, 1871–1872." Harvard University Library: Open Collections Program: Home. http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/expeditions/hassler.html.
  • Schlee, Susan. The edge of an unfamiliar world; a history of oceanography. 1st ed. New York: Dutton, 1973.
  • Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology (2013). Ichthology Department: research collections expeditions. Retrieved from http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Ichthyology/expeditions_thayer_hassler.html#HasslerExpedition18711872

Date Range

1871 - 1872


  • Malacology
  • Zoology
  • Ichthyology
  • Plants
  • Invertebrates
  • Botany


  • South America
  • Colón, Archipiélago de
  • Magellan, Strait of


Expedition name