International Polar Expedition to Point Barrow, Alaska (1881-1883)

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The International Polar Expedition was sponsored by the U.S. Signal Corps and the Smithsonian Institution to establish a permanent station for meteorological, magnetic, tidal, and pendulum observation. It was under the command of First Lieutenant P. H. Ray, US Army. The excursion set sail from San Francisco on July 18, 1881 and returned October 7, 1883. The group reached Point Barrow, the northernmost point of the United States, and established a base 15 kilometers southwest of the point. The expedition collected mammals, birds, fishes, insects, marine invertebrates, mollusks, plants, as well as mineral specimens. Spencer F. Baird, head of the Smithsonian Institution, played a significant role in the expedition’s planning and staffing. The natural history and ethnological specimens collected during the trip were sent to the United States National Museum. In total, 10 men made up the expeditionary force including, Sergt. John Murdoch, Signal Corps, naturalist and observer; Sergt. Middleton Smith, Signal Corps, IT. S. Army, naturalist and observer; Capt. E. P. Herendeen, interpreter, storekeeper; Mr. A. C. Dark, astronomer and magnetic observer (Coast Survey); Acting Assistant Surgeon, George Scott Oldmixon, U. S. Army; Sergt. James Cassidy, Signal Corps, IT. S. Army, observer.


  • Report of the International polar expedition to Point Barrow, Alaska, in response to the resolution of the [U.S.] House of representatives of December 11, 1884. Washington : Govt. Print. Off., 1885.
  • Burch, E. S. (2009). Smithsonian contributions to Alaskan ethnography: The first IPY expedition to Barrow, 1881-1883. Smithsonian at the Poles, 89-98. Retrieved from

Date Range

1881 - 1883


  • Animals
  • Entomology
  • Mineralogy
  • Birds
  • Ichthyology
  • Mollusks
  • Plants
  • Ornithology
  • Botany


  • United States
  • Point Barrow
  • Alaska


Expedition name