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Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr. (June 7, 1910 - January 10, 2007) was an explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer. He established the Boston Museum of Sciencemarker, served as its director from 1939-1980, and from 1985 until his death served as its Honorary Director (a lifetime appointment).

Washburn is especially noted for exploits in four areas.
  • He was one of the leading American mountaineers in the 1920s through the 1950s, putting up first ascents and new routes on many major Alaskanmarker peaks (often with his wife, Barbara Washburn, one of the pioneers among female mountaineers).
  • He pioneered the use of aerial photography in the analysis of mountains and in planning mountaineering expeditions. His thousands of striking black-and-white photos, mostly of Alaskan peaks and glaciers, are known for their wealth of informative detail and their artistry. They are the reference standard for route photos of Alaskan climbs.
  • He was responsible for some of the finest maps ever made of mountain regions; his map of Mount McKinleymarker and his map of Mount Everestmarker are perhaps the most notable, although his map of the Presidential Rangemarker in New Hampshiremarker was closer to home.
  • His stewardship of the Boston Museum of Science made it into a first-class museum.

Also notable is the fact that some of these achievements – e.g. the Everest map and subsequent further work on the elevation and geology of Everest – were carried out in his 70s and 80s.


Born in Cambridge, Massachusettsmarker, Washburn received an undergraduate degree from Harvard Universitymarker, where he was a member of the Harvard Mountaineering Club. He returned to Harvard to earn a master’s degree in geology and geography in 1960.

Washburn was an avid pilot and made his first solo flight in a Fleet biplane at Boeing Fieldmarker in Seattlemarker in 1934. He earned his private flying license at Roosevelt Field on Long Islandmarker later that year.

Washburn embarked on a notable expedition in 1937 to Mount Lucaniamarker, 17,147 feet (5,226 m), in the Yukonmarker. To do this he and climbing partner Robert Bates had to reach Walsh Glacier, 8,750 ft (2,670 m) above sea level. He called upon Bob Reeve, a famous Alaskan bush pilot, who later replied by cable to Washburn, "Anywhere you'll ride, I'll fly". The ski-equipped Fairchild F-51 made several trips to the landing site on the glacier without event in May, but on landing with Washburn and Bates in June, the plane sank into unseasonal slush. Washburn, Bates and Reeve pressed hard for five days to get the airplane out and Reeve was eventually able to get the airplane airborne with all excess weight removed and the assistance of a smooth icefall with a steep drop. Washburn and Bates continued on foot to make the first ascent of Lucania, and after an epic descent and journey to civilization, they hiked over 150 miles through the wilderness to safety in the small town of Burwash Landingmarker in the Yukon.

Washburn gathered many awards over the course of his career, including nine honorary doctorates, the Centennial Award of the National Geographic Societymarker (shared with his wife Barbara, the first woman to summit Mount McKinleymarker), and the King Albert Medal of Merit.

He died of heart failure on January 10, 2007, at the age of 96, in a retirement home in Lexington, Massachusettsmarker. In addition to his wife, he left a son, Edward H of Lexington, MA., and two daughters, Dorothy Dundas of Newton, MA and Elizabeth Cabot of Belmont, MA.

Washburn’s legacy now lives on with a new state-of-the-art museum named in his honor. The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum (BWAMM) is devoted to mountaineering, the mountains, science and art, and the dissemination of knowledge – all things that Washburn exemplified. BWAMM is a joint project of the American Alpine Club, Colorado Mountain Club, and National Geographic Societymarker, and opened in Golden, Coloradomarker, Feb. 16, 2008.

Selected Alaskan first ascents


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