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How do expeditions inform Smithsonian research?

The Wilkes Expedition (1838–1842) was the first of many expeditions to contribute significantly to the Smithsonian’s collections. The daring four-year voyage explored and mapped the Pacific, Antarctica, and the northwest coast of the United States. It was a national achievement comparable to the moon landing.

Today, collections from the Wilkes Expedition constitute the core of nearly every department of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and are represented in other Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of American History.

NMNH scientists travel around the globe and to the depths of the ocean to collect natural specimens and cultural objects. Taken together, the Museum's collections form the largest, most comprehensive natural history collection in the world. By comparing items gathered in different eras and regions, scientists learn how our world has varied across time and space.

The Smithsonian continues its legacy of exploration and discovery as one of the world’s foremost research institutions in science, the arts, and the humanities. In addition to research pursued by our museums and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian's eight research centers and three cultural centers specialize in areas of inquiry spanning the globe and the farthest reaches of the universe.

Photo of a scaled wooden model of a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts against a dark backdrop.
Ship Model of USS Porpoise
One of six ships of the Wilkes Expedition, the Porpoise sailed around the world between 1838 and 1842.
Collection of the National Museum of American History
Learn more about the Wilkes Expedition from Smithsonian Libraries and Archives and Smithsonian Magazine.
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