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Lt. Charles Wilkes

The United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-42 is a milestone in American science. Often referred to as the Wilkes Expedition, this expedition brought back to the United States a wealth of geological, botanical, zoological, anthropological and other materials which created a foundation upon which much of American science was formed. At least three of the scientists involved with the expedition gained international acclaim from their efforts.
The expedition was authorized by Congress in response to popular demand. Investigations were carried on in widely separated areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans including Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, the west coast of North America, the Philippines and the East Indies. The two penetrations into Antarctic waters were in February and March 1839, and January and February

of 1840. Even though the Antarctic portion of the expedition was part of a larger plan in the Pacific, major accomplishments were gained. Wilkes sighted land on several occasions as he sailed along the edge of the ice pack south of Australia for some 1500 miles. Thus, Wilkes was the first to provide proof of the existence of an Antarctic continent.