Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

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  • Philbrick, a maritime historian, traces the history of the United States Exploring Expedition, led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, from 1838 to 1842. The U.S. Ex Ex, as it was known, was the first U.S. global exploring expedition, and included a crew of "scientifics," who amassed a collection of artifacts, specimens, and observations of the lands, peoples, plants and animals of the places they visited. Philbrick focuses on maritime history of the voyage and the character of its commander, Charles Wilkes. Despite Wilkes' flaws the U.S. Ex Ex achieved great strides, through its hydrographic mapping of the Northwest Coast of North America and the islands of the Pacific.
  • The U.S. Ex Ex also "discovered" Antarctica, establishing that it was a land mass of continental proportions and mapping a part of its coast. When the expedition returned to the United States, these many achievements were overshadowed by the numerous courts martial, provoked by Wilkes' "martinet" style of command. Concerns over how to care for the U.S. Ex Ex collections inspired planners to include the museum function when establishing the Smithsonian in 1846, and the U.S. Ex Ex collections were later transferred to the Smithsonian, forming the core of the United States National Museum.


  • Wilkes, Charles 1798-1877
  • United States Exploring Expedition (USEE)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Won the National Book Award for 2003.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Hydrographic surveying
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Collectors and collecting
  • Explorations and Expeditions
  • National Collections




First edition

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Number of pages : 452 pp

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