In 1899, wealthy railroad magnate Edward Harriman arranged for a maritime expedition to Alaska. He brought with him an elite community of scientists, artists, photographers, and naturalists to explore and document the Alaskan coast.
The Harriman Alaska Expedition explored coast of Alaska for two months, from Seattle to Siberia and back again.
He contacted Clinton Hart Merriam, the head of the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy at the United States Department of Agriculture, and one of the founders of the National Geographic Society. Harriman told Merriam that he would cover the expenses of scientists, artists, and other experts who would join the voyage. He asked Merriam to choose the scientific party.
Merriam held a flurry of meetings and sent out dozens of telegrams. He organized a broad range of experts: arctic experts, botanists, biologists and zoologists, geologists and geographers, artists, photographers, ornithologists, and writers.
Harriman had the steamship George W. Elder refitted for the expedition. The remodeled ship featured lecture rooms, a library with over 500 volumes on Alaska, a stable for animals, taxidermy studios, and luxury rooms for the team. Some on the expedition referred to the ship as the George W. Roller, for its tendency to roll in the waves, causing seasickness among many of the passengers.
Historians question why Harriman wanted to go to Alaska. Some think he was considering developing Alaskan resources. Some think he was considering building a railroad to the Alaskan territory. Some people at the time openly wondered if he was going to buy Alaska, or build a railroad bridge from Alaska to Siberia — a railroad around the world. Nothing seemed impossible for Edward H. Harriman.
Photos from the Harriman Alaska Expedition
More photos from Souvenir of The Harriman Alaska Expedition, May-August, 1899 – Cook Inlet to Bering Strait and the return voyage (1899) can be seen on our Facebook page.