Western Union Telegraph Expedition (1865-1867)

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In 1865, a man named Cyrus Fields was creating the Atlantic Cable—a telegraph line running under the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. Convinced submerging a telegraph cable in water was impossible, the Western Union funded Perry McDonough Collins and his expedition to build the first overland cross continental telegraph line. In order to put up the line, land surveys were conducted in Canada, Asia, and Alaska. Kennicott and his party of highly qualified naturalists and botanists focused their efforts exploring the flora and fauna of Alaska for the first time. The Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago Academy of Science’s Scientific Corp funded the survey work of Chief of Explorations, Robert Kennicott who, along with hundreds of men – most notably William Healey Dall and Joseph Trimble Rothrock – embarked March 21, 1865 to Alaska. The teams proceeded from San Francisco July 1865 to Alaska; Team wintered in San Francisco again returning to collect in Alaska July of 1866. In the winter, Dall, Kennicott and Rothrock separated with teams to explore different areas of Alaska. Kennicott died in the field during 1866, eventually Dall was chosen to head the expedition, and his team went to Unalaklik River to Yukon to Nulato, and wintered in Alaska 1866. Spring 1867, they went to Fort Yukon and St. Michaels and learned the end of the expedition. Dall remained in Alaska to explore and collect along the Yukon, remaining until spring of 1868. Some specimens were lost enroute to Smithsonian.


  • Adams, George R. Life on the Yukon: 1865-1867. The Limestone Press, 1982.
  • Dall, William Healey. Alaska Documents. Rothrock, J.T. M.D. “Flora of Alaska” From the Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1867
  • Dall, William Healey. Alaska and It’s Resources. Lee and Shepard, 1870.

Date Range

1865 - 1867


  • Zoology
  • Plants
  • Paleontology
  • Botany


  • Canada
  • United States
  • Alaska
  • British Columbia
  • Washington


Expedition name