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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Image of the Day

On March 23, 1909, members of the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition set sail for Africa. Only three weeks after the inauguration of his successor William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt led a collecting expedition to British East Africa. He promised to bring back big game specimens for the New United States National Museum, now known as the National Museum of Natural History and live specimens for the National Zoological Park. The Smithsonian sent three representatives on the expedition: Edmund Heller, a zoologist, J. Alden Loring, also a zoologist, and Major Edgar A. Mearns, a field naturalist and retired Army Surgeon. The party also included Theodore Roosevelt's son Kermit, who served as the group photographer. When the trip concluded in 1910, the expedition had sent back 5,000 mammals, 4,000 birds, 2,000 reptiles, frogs and toads, and 2,000 fish, miscellaneous insects, and crabs. In 1913, specimens from the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition were placed on display in the New United States National Museum Building. Many remained on exhibit until the 2003 renovation of the Mammals Hall. Currently, only the square-lipped rhinoceros remains on display in the National Museum of Natural History. The collections brought back by the expedition equipped the Museum with diverse specimens for an exhibit that took visitors to the African continent. Roosevelt, President and Naturalist said it best in the Washington Post, March 9, 1911, "These specimens were collected...and presented to the American people for their education, pleasure, and profit."

*Pictured: Theodore Roosevelt dressed in expedition attire, c. 1900, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Courtney Esposito, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives


  1. SI Libraries also has some original photographs and archival materials from the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition in its Russell E. Train Africana Collection, located in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

  2. it would be nice if SI Libraries would put the material online together with the rest the archives photo collections.

  3. I see your Roosevelt post and raise you another:


  4. Dear Anonymous,

    The SI Libraries do keep their online material with the archival material. If you want further detail on how to use the search contact me and I'd be happy to help!

  5. Thank you, Anonymous, for your interest in the SI Libraries material (and thanks Rachael for helping to explain) --it's true that the finding aids and images for related collections often tend to be fragmented throughout the Smithsonian, which is one of the problems this Blog is trying to help remedy. SI Libraries hopes to eventually get a grant to fund the scanning of its archival materials, as long as there are no intellectual property rights restrictions for doing reproductions (a concern for more recently created photographs, correspondence, etc.).

    There is an SI Libraries online exhibition about African exploration using some of the Train Collection materials at The Art of African Exploration and there are also a few photos reproduced on the SI Flickr Commons.

    Best wishes, Diane Shaw