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
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.