Washburn, Bradford 1910–2007

views updated

Washburn, Bradford 1910–2007

(Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.)


See index for SATA sketch: Born June 7, 1910, in Cambridge, MA; died of heart failure January 10, 2007, in Lexington, MA. Cartographer, photographer, mountaineer, museum director, and author. A former director of the Boston Museum of Science, Washburn was a noted photographer and cartographer who contributed to the accurate mapping of the Grand Canyon. He was a Harvard University graduate, earning a B.A. in 1933 and a master's degree in 1960. His became interested in mountains at an early age, and as a teenager he climbed the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc in Europe. In America, Washburn was an instructor at the Institute of Geographical Explorations from 1935 until 1942, and he led expeditions to the Yukon and Mount McKinley for the National Geographic Society throughout the 1930s. He was named director of the New England Museum of Natural History in Boston (now the Museum of Science) in 1939. During World War II, Washburn was a cold-climate equipment consultant for the U.S. Army Air Forces and he directed Alaskan test projects. His military work reduced frost-bite in soldiers by ninety percent. Through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, he led a number of expeditions to Alaskan mountains, often traveling with his wife, who was the first woman to ascend Mt. McKinley. He wrote articles about his travels and submitted photographs to such magazines as National Geographic, Look, Scientific American, Polar Record, Sports Illustrated, and Life. Washburn was most often recognized, however, for his groundbreaking work in the early 1970s in mapping the Grand Canyon, which he completed using the most advanced technology available, including lasers. He and his team created new maps in 1974 and 1978 that were highly detailed and accurate. Although Washburn never climbed Mt. Everest, he was noted, for using global positioning devices in 1999 to accurately measure the peak at 29,035 feet. As director of the Mu- seum of Science, Washburn was credited with turning an old-fashioned facility into a leading center for science and research that now attracts 1.4 million visitors a year. He retired from his position in 1980, but continued to work at the museum as chair of the corporation until 1985; he retained an office there as honorary director until 2000. The author of such books as Bradford on Mt. Fairweather (1930) and A Tourist Guide to Mount McKinley (1971), he received numerous awards for his accomplishments, including the Gold Medal from the Harvard Travellers Club in 1959, the Gold Research Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 1979 and the Cherry Kearton Medal in 1988 from the Royal Geographical Society. The Bradford Washburn Gold Medal and Award was named in his honor by the Museum of Science in 1964.



Science and Its Times, Volume 6: 1900-1949, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Chicago Tribune, January 14, 2007, section 4, p. 6.

New York Times, January 16, 2007, p. A29.

Times (London, England), January 22, 2007, p. 48.