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Notes on Surveying for Officers of U.S. Exploring Expedition, notebook of Captain Charles Wilkes, ca. 1838-1842

Largely self-taught in surveying and navigation, Charles Wilkes gained additional experience in the Navy before he led the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Charged with mapping uncharted Pacific shores, Wilkes wrote this handbook for his officers, including a diagram of how to survey an island. The detailed nautical charts they created served navigators for over a century.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Notes on Surveying for Officers of U.S. Exploring Expedition, notebook of Captain Charles Wilkes, ca. 1838-1842

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.