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Map of Part of the Island of Hawaii, 1841

The expedition spent about six months in the Hawaiian Islands (then known as the Sandwich Islands), surveying the uncharted islands and studying geology, particularly volcanoes. This map shows several volcanoes, including Mauna Loa, in the area that is today Volcano National Park, an international biosphere reserve and world heritage site.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Map of Part of the Island of Hawaii, 1841

Mapping the World

Throughout the 19th century Congress funded expeditions to explore land and sea. In 1836 Congress authorized the United States Exploring Expedition—also called the Wilkes Expedition after its leader, naval officer Charles Wilkes. Its purpose was to circumnavigate the world, promote commerce and “extend the bounds of science and … Knowledge.” The four-year expedition mapped South Sea islands and Pacific coastlines, established trade, and gathered voluminous information that aided the United States in becoming a leading scientific and naval power.