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Park Service celebrates 150 anniversary of Hayden Expedition

A Pennsylvania geology professor and a big crew of guides, artists and frontiersmen explored, recorded and revealed Yellowstone to the public.

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150th anniversary of the 1871 Hayden Survey

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the famous Hayden Expedition, a trek that captured the imaginations of the American public and played an essential role in establishing Yellowstone as a national park.

In 1871, led by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, a geology professor from the University of Pennsylvania, the Hayden Survey set out to explore the Yellowstone area, and document the unique wildlife, geology and geography of the land. Some $40,000 was appropriated by Congress for the work, in part to explore land for a railroad.

“It was a good chance to see a part of the West that was being explored really for the first time,” said historian and author Marlene Merrill.

150th anniversary of the 1871 Hayden Survey

A map of Yellowstone Lake produced by the 1871 Hayden Survey.

The Hayden Survey brought back scientific and visual proof of earlier tales of thermal activity and scenic wonders, gathering geological, botanical, and zoological specimens along with sketches and photographs from Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson depicting the area’s beauty and curiosities.

“When they came back they actually had pictures to show Congress of what they saw,” Merrill said.

The expedition’s reports and renderings excited the scientific community and aroused even more interest in Yellowstone, and helped convince the U.S. Congress to make the area the country’s first national park in 1872.

150th anniversary of the 1871 Hayden Survey

Thomas Moran on Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs. Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson often worked in tandem during the Hayden Survey in 1871 — Moran would later use several of Jackson’s photographs for reference in his paintings — and the pair developed a lifelong friendship.

Before the Hayden Survey there had been only informal non-governmental exploration of the area, according to Merrill.

“Mostly business people that were just curious about, particularly, Mammoth Hot Springs,” Merrill said. “But there was no artist record of what they saw.”

To commemorate the anniversary of the Hayden survey the Department of Interior Museum and Yellowstone National Park, in connection with the U.S. Geological Survey, have designed a social media campaign to accompany an exhibition of Thomas Moran’s famous works.

Under the hashtag #BigPictureMorans, social media posts on Facebook and Twitter have been tracing Moran’s journey 150 years later to the day, featuring works in the Interior Museum’s collection, excerpts from Moran’s expedition journal and photographs from the expedition from the collections of the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

150th anniversary of the 1871 Hayden Survey

Thomas Moran’s “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” completed in the winter of 1871 after exploring the Yellowstone region with the Hayden Survey that summer. The painting hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Just as these works framed a vision of the American West and shaped conversations about public lands in the 1870s, they continue to frame that discussion in the twenty-first century,” the Department of Interior Museum said in a release.

The Hayden Survey began the long trip through the West in wagons pulled by horses and mules.

150th anniversary of the 1871 Hayden Survey

The Hayden Survey’s military escort camped near the West Thumb Geyser Basin on Yellowstone Lake in the summer of 1871.

“They began the survey, pretty much around Salt Lake City and they went up north, going through places like Utah and Montana,” Merrill said.

Hayden’s team included several scientists in addition to artist Moran and photographer Jackson. There was also a crowd of teamsters, cooks and laborers to do the physical labor.

“Expedition leaders included artists on these surveys, because their sketches, photographs and paintings added dimensionality to their data and lent visual interest to the accounts,” according to the Department of Interior Museum.

As an artist on the team, Moran sketched and recorded the landscape of Yellowstone and its unique geologic features during the journey, producing the first images of the Yellowstone region. Those sketches, along with Jackson’s photographs, captured the public’s imagination.

150th anniversary of the 1871 Hayden Survey

Photographer William Henry Jackson and artist Thomas Moran often worked in tandem during the 1871 Hayden Survey, picking out the best views for Jackson’s photographs that Moran would later reference for paintings.

Contact Analeise S. Mayor at 732-7076 or

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(1) comment

Arcy Hawks

Wonderful History. Habits has on view now until the end of the month some of these original iconic images.

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