Photographic Prints from the US Geological Explorations of the Fortieth Parallel and the US Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian
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Scope and Contents of the Collection
Four major surveys (King, Powell, Hayden, Wheeler) of the geography and geology of the western United States were authorized by the US government in the years after the Civil War. The King Survey was established by Congress (Acts of March 2, 1867) in the Office of the Chief of Engineers, War Department; the Wheeler Survey was officially established by Congress (Act of June 10, 1872).
This majority of photographic prints in this collection were taken by Timothy H. O'Sullivan for the King Survey in 1867, 1868, 1869, 1872. William Bell worked in the summer of 1872 as a photographer on the Wheeler survey, replacing O'Sullivan as photographer. Neither set of prints is complete.
O'Sullivan worked in Washington DC for the government during the off season of the survey years and beyond, also as a private entrepreneur, creating prints of the photographs for use with report publications, as separate photograph sets, and for exhibitions.
More complete holdings of O'Sullivan photographs are held by the Library of Congress and in the National Archives.
- Creation: 1867 - 1872
- United States. Army. Corps of Engineers (Organization)
- O'Sullivan, Timothy H. (Photographer, Person)
- Bell, William H. (Photographer, Person)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open.
Conditions Governing Use
Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.
Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1840-1882, was a photographer well known for his Civil War photographs taken as an assistant to photographer Matthew Brady. Later after the war, O'Sullivan was the field photographer for several US government geographical and geological explorations and surveys of the western United States between 1867 through 1874. For the King Survey, he worked survey seasons 1867, 1868, 1869, and 1872. During 1871, 1873, and 1874, he was the photographer for the Wheeler Survey. He also worked on the Darian Survey of the Panama Ismuth in 1871. O'Sullivan was also paid when he returned to Washington DC in the survey off season, employed by the government, and also as a private entrepreneur, creating prints from the survey glass plate negatives. Prints were used for reports, to be sold as separate photograph sets, for libraries, and for exhibitions.
In the years after the Civil War, four major scientific and military expeditions (King, Powell, Hayden, Wheeler) of the western United States were authorized by the US government. The King Survey was established by Congress (Acts of March 2, 1867) in the Office of the Chief of Engineers, War Department; the Wheeler Survey was officially established by Congress (Act of June 10, 1872). Lt. Wheeler, an Army officer in the Army Corps of Engineers had participated in earlier military expeditions of the west. In 1871, the Corps of Engineers had previously sent Wheeler to explore and map the area south of the Central Pacific Railroad in eastern Nevada and Arizona.
The Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, under the direction of Clarence King, geologist in charge, appointed Timothy H. O'Sullivan as photographer. This survey explored the area between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains, including a focus on possible routes for the Pacific Railroad. O'Sullivan worked in the field from July through December, 1867; spent the winter of 1868 in Nevada, returned to the field from May to September 1868. In May 1869 he photographed in the field in Utah through Septmeber of 1869. O'Sullivan returned to the Geological Survey in March 1872, for a field season from April to November 1872.
The U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian under the direction of George M. Wheeler of the US Army Corps of Engineers. In September 1870 Timothy H. O'Sullivan was hired by Wheeler to join the survey the following spring as a photographer. Field work began in May and ended in December 1871. William Bell was hired for the summer of 1872 when O'Sullivan returned to work for the King Survey.
4 Cubic Feet (8 flat boxes)
Language of Materials
The sets of photographs held by the Department of Distinctive Collections, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been arranged into two groups, one for the King Survey and one for the Wheeler Survey.
King survey prints are then arranged by expedition year, within each year in order by the plate #.
Wheeler survey prints are arranged by topical subseries, as listed on the prints themselves. Those are are Mining; Geological; Nevada; Arizona; and Colorado River, with each topical subseries by year of expedition.
Since different regions were covered in different expedition years, there is a de facto geographic gathering of items in both the King and Wheeler surverys.
Location of Originals
The National Archives and Records Administration Records Group 57: Records of the U.S. Geological Survery contains meteorological records, fieldbooks, correspondence, general records, reports, negatives, stereographic prints, and photographic prints of the King Surveys (RG 57.2.1) and Wheeler Surveys (RG 57.2.4).
National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 77: Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers also has original survey records including (RG 77.7): Photographs taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, staff photographer for the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel headed by Clarence King; (RG77.8) Prints, O'Sullivan and Bell, 1871-1874 Wheeler survey.
Location of Copies
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division has a large number of prints of Timothy H. O'Sullivan and William H. Bell expedition images and has digitized access copies on its website.
- "Photographs from the High Rockies", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, volume 39, September 1869.
- Report of the geological exploration of the fortieth parallel : made by order of the Secretary of War according to the acts of Congress of March 2, 1867, and March 3, 1869 : under the direction of Brig. and Bvt. Major General A.A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, by Clarence King, U.S. Geologist. QE74.K5 1870Institute Archives and Special Collections has volumes: III. Mining industry / by James D. Hague ; with geological contributions by Clarence King (1870) -- IV. pt. I. Palaeontology / by F.B. Meek. pt. II. Palaeontology / by James Hall and R.P. Whitfield. pt. III. Ornithology / by Robert Ridgway (1877) -- V. Botany / by Sereno Watson ; aided by Prof. Daniel C. Eaton and others (1871) -- VI. Microscopical petrography / by Ferdinand Zirkel (1876) -- VII. Odonthornithes : a monograph on the extinct toothed birds of North America ... / by Othniel Charles Marsh (1880) .
- Report upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian: in charge of Capt. Geo. M. Wheeler, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army: under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army: published by authority of...the Secretary of War in accordance with Acts of Congress of June 23, 1874, and February 15, 1875: in seven volumes and one supplement, accompanied by one topographic and one geologic atlas. QE74.W6 1875-1889.Institute Archives and Special Collections has volumes:v. 1. Geographical report -- v. 3. Geology. Reports upon the geology of portions of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, examined in the years 1871, 1872, and 1873 / by G.K. Gilbert, A.R. Marvine, E.E. Howell, Jno. J. Stevenson, geological assistants ; Oscar Loew, mineralogical assistant -- v. 4. Palaeontology. Reports upon the invertebrate fossils collected in portions of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, by parties of the expeditions of 1871, 1872, 1873, and 1874, and, The extinct vertebratra obtained in New Mexico by parties of the expedition of 1874 / by Charles A. White, M.D., and Prof. E.D. Cope.
- Government in Science: The U.S. Geological Survey, 1867-1894, by Thomas Manning. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1967. MIT Libraries, QE76.M284.
- Great Surveys of the American West, by Richard Bartlett. Norman OK, 1962. MIT Libraries F594.B291
- American Frontiers: Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1867-1874, by Joel Synder. Millerton, NY: Aperture Press, 1981. MIT Libraries, Rotch F594.S67
- Wheeler's photographic survey of the American West, 1871-1873 by George M. Wheeler ; with 50 landscape photographs by Timothy O'Sullivan and William Bell. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1983.
- One/Many: Western American Survey Photographs, by Joel Synder. Chicago: David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 2006. MIT Libraries, Rotch TR661.S692.
- Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan / Toby Jurovics, Carol M. Johnson, Glenn Willumson, and William F. Stapp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
Both King and Wheeler photographs are albumen prints on mounts.
Physical Facet note
Plate numbers have been penciled in on the King Survey prints. Library of Congress catalog records for the King Survey photographs indicate that the plate numbers penciled in on MIT's copies of the King Survey prints correspond to numbers used in the publication: Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel / United States Army Corps of Engineers; Clarence King, geologist in charge. Washington, D.C.; 187-.
The mount of each print from the King Survey has the printed text: Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parrallel, Clarence King, Geologist in Charge, Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel; T.H. O'Sullivan Phot. plus a seal surrounded by the text: War Department. Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army.
The mount of each print from the Wheeler Survey has a printed title and the printed text: War Department - Explorations in Nevada and Arizona - Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler, Comd'g. Each mount also carries the text "Expedition of 1871" or "Expedition of 1872". Each mount also carries a credit for the photographer, either T. H. O'Sullivan or W. Bell.
Each print has been stamped on the back by the MIT Libraries "MIT Library, Humanities April 1973"
Processing Information note
Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.
- Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian (U.S.) (Organization)
- United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (Organization)
- Photographic Prints from the US Geological Explorations of the Fortieth Parallel and the USGeographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian
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