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David Thompson

David Thompson

David Thompson (1770-1857) was a Canadian explorer, cartographer, and surveyor. He was the first white man to descend the Columbia River from its source to its mouth.

David Thompson was born at Westminster, England, on April 30, 1770. After a surprisingly good education at Grey Coat School, a charity school near his home, he was apprenticed to the Hudson's Bay Company at the age of 14. He was sent out immediately and spent the years from 1784 to 1797 as a clerk, either at the bay or at various locations in the interior. He left the company's employ in 1797, in circumstances that virtually amounted to desertion. It was a poor repayment to an employer that had treated him well and trained him as a surveyor.

It was his surveying skill and his wilderness experience which made Thompson welcome at the North West Company, the great rival of the Hudson's Bay Company for the fur trade of the Northwest. The wealth of the company allowed him to devote most of the time from 1797 to 1812 to surveying and exploring with only infrequent periods of actually engaging in the fur trade. In 1804 he was made a partner in the company.

For several years Thompson made extensive journeys through the western plains, the Rocky Mountains, and along the Pacific slope, mapping and surveying as he traveled. In 1810-1811 he undertook the expedition for which he is best known. The Columbia River had long been a magnet for western traders, and Thompson was the first to travel the river from its source to its mouth. In one sense, his trip was a failure since his company had hoped that he would establish a post at the point where the Columbia emptied into the ocean before the arrival of the American Fur Company of John Jacob Astor. After excessive and unnecessary delay, he found Ft. Astoria already built when he came to the Columbia's mouth.

The following year, 1812, Thompson retired from the company and settled at Terrebonne, Lower Canada, later removing to Williamstown, Upper Canada. His surveying skills were employed in the establishment of the boundary between these two provinces. Later he was engaged in surveying the Canada-United States boundary as far west as Lake of the Woods. He never returned, however, to the Northwest.

In 1799 Thompson had married Charlotte Small, an Indian woman with whom he had 16 children. He died on Feb. 10, 1857, at Longueuil near Montreal.

Further Reading

The most valuable source of information on Thompson is the result of the meticulous scholarship of Richard Glover, who edited David Thompson's Narrative, 1784-1812 (1962). Also useful are W. S. Wallace, By Star and Compass (1922), and C. N. Cochrane, David Thompson, the Explorer (1928). □

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Thompson, David

Thompson, David

American Aeronautics Company Executive 1954-

David W. Thompson is the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), a space technology and satellite services company he cofounded in 1982. Before starting OSC, Thompson was a project manager and engineer who worked on advanced rocket engines at the National Aeronautic and Space Administration's (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center.

As a graduate student, Thompson worked on the first Mars landing missions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Thompson and his cofounders of OSC met at Harvard Business School, where they shared an interest in the commercial uses of space. OSC was founded on the concept of commercial companies, not government agencies, being the driving force in the space industry. Whereas most established space companies' commercial businesses have evolved from government-or military-funded programs, OSC is devoted exclusively to the commercial aspects of the space industry.

OSC is one of the world's ten largest space-related companies, with over 5,000 employees. The company has its headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, and maintains major facilities in the United States, Canada, and several locations overseas. OSC's business activities involve satellites, the Pegasus and Taurus launch vehicles, space robotics, and software. In addition, OSC provides mobile data and messaging services (ORBCOMM) and satellite imaging of Earth.

see also Launch Vehicles, Expendable (volume 1); Launch Vehicles, Reusable (volume 1); Remote Sensing Systems (volume 1); Reusable Launch Vehicles (volume 4); Satellites, Types of (volume 1).

John F. Kross

Internet Resources

Orbital Sciences Web Site. <http://www.orbital.com/OSC/index.html>.

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Thompson, David

David Thompson, 1770–1857, Canadian geographer, fur trader, and explorer, b. London, England. In 1784 he came to Fort Churchill, Canada, as an apprentice of the Hudson's Bay Company, and until 1797 he was a fur trader of Hudson Bay and in the Athabasca country to the west. Although he had little scientific training, he developed great skill in geodetic and astronomical observations, and after 1797, when he joined the North West Company, he methodically located points in W Canada and made surveys of astonishing exactitude. In 1797–98 he traveled far S to the Mandan villages on the Missouri and then surveyed the headwaters of the Mississippi River. His most notable exploring expeditions were those across the Rocky Mts. and on the Columbia River. In 1807 he crossed the Howse Pass to the source of the Columbia River and traveled its length; he then explored the Kootenai, Pend Oreille, and Clark Fork river basins. In 1810, prevented by the Piegan from using Howse Pass, he went north to the head of the Athabasca River and across the mountains and explored all of the Columbia River system. He then went to Montreal, where he made (1812–14) a large and invaluable map of W Canada for the North West Company, long the best map of the region. Thompson, however, received little open recognition except an appointment (1816–26) to the commission for surveying the U.S.-Canadian boundary. It was not until the 20th cent. that his importance as a geographer was recognized.

See his narrative (ed. by J. B. Tyrrell, 1916, repr. 1968); biography by J. K. Smith (1971).

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