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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.