The Ex. Ex. map shows the route of the four-year, almost 87,000-mile voyage, of the U.S. Exploring Expedition.
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Navigation and American Exploration in the 19th Century

When the United States was a young nation, it was eager to join the world's maritime powers.

During the 19th century, American ships sailed every ocean. They carried immigrants to new homes, exotic goods from Asia, and prospectors to the California gold fields, and they explored uncharted oceans.

One notable voyage was in 1838: the U.S. Exploring Expedition, also known as the Wilkes Expedition. Aboard six U.S. Navy vessels were several hundred sailors and scientists under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. Authorized by Congress, this expedition explored and mapped the Pacific, Antarctica, and the northwest coast of the United States.

A tremendous feat of navigation, the expedition broadened knowledge of unchartered areas of the world and helped expand American commerce, industry, and scientific knowledge. It cemented the nation’s status as a new world economic leader.

Downloadable Resources

  • Scientists of the United States Exploring Expedition

    From 1838 -1842, the crew United States Exploring Expedition had a number of scientists on board to study and document their discoveries. This Power Point introduces you to a few of the scientists who participated in the expedition.

Related Artifacts & Multimedia Assets


Map produced by the U.S. Exploring Expedition. 


Lt. Micajah G. L. Claiborne's remarks about navigation observations during the expedition.


Chronometers like this one by Molyneaux & Son were used on the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838-1842).


Chronometers like this one by Charles Frodsham were used on the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838-1842).


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