Letter from Henry Eld to Henry Eld, Sr., Islands of Hawaii, Mauna Loa, December 31, 1840
While in Hawaii, Lieutenant Wilkes led expedition members and porters on an arduous ascent of the volcano Mauna Loa for scientific research. Resting near the tremendous crater's edge on New Year's Eve, Midshipman Henry Eld wrote his father that the explorers are "all similarly employed writing to our friends," while "shivering with the cold."
I am this moment Elevated 13 thousand feet above the level of the Sea on the Summit of…Mauna Loa (Long Mountain) and within 50 feet of a Crater…
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Exploring 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.