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H. Bradford Washburn, Jr. Albums Collection

Identifier: A2020-01-01

Content Description

This collection contains photographic albums, diaries, and other material created primarily by Bradford Washburn during his mountaineering expeditions and aerial photography surveys spanning the years 1927-1999. The 127 photographic albums contain approximately 15,000 silver gelatin prints, in addition to the 11 diary volumes, flight logs, and binders of material related to Washburn’s talks, publications, and areas of interest. The albums were compiled by Washburn and the aerial and expedition images correspond to his collection of photographic negatives. Other materials within the collection include indexes of the aerial photographs and diaries, compiled by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

The materials created by Washburn fall between the years 1927 and 1999, and the supplementary materials created by the University of Alaska date to 1994 and 2019.


  • 1927 - 2019
  • Majority of material found within 1929 - 1979


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research. As a preservation measure due to the fragile condition of some materials, access may be restricted to where only Archives staff can handle the materials.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection includes materials that are still under copyright, including photographs, maps, and commercial works. In particular, the Museum of Science maintains copyright over most of the photographic negatives produced by Washburn and held by the Museum. The collection also contains works whose copyright is held by other organizations (e.g. University of Alaska, Fairbanks). The researcher assumes all responsibility for identifying copyright holders and attaining permission for reproduction.

Biographical / Historical

H. Bradford Washburn (born Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.) was born on June 7, 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts. He grew up in Cambridge with his father Henry Bradford Washburn (an Episcopal deacon and Dean of the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge), his mother Edith Hall Washburn, his young brother Sherwood, and his older half- sister Mabel Hall Colgate.

In July 1921, an 11-year-old Washburn had his first significant mountaineering experience when he climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Over the next few years he made numerous return trips to Mount Washington and other peaks in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains and then, in 1926, began several years of regular mountaineering trips to the Alps. As a result of these experiences, the teenage Washburn acquired a reputation as a respected mountaineer and published several pieces on the subject.

Washburn made his first foray into aerial photography in 1927 on a flight around the Alps, using his Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak, a small folding camera. He was disappointed in the lack of impact the smaller negatives had, and by 1929 he had graduated to using an Ica Trix camera, which resulted in negatives measuring 4 inches by 6 inches. By 1936 he was using a Fairchild K6 camera and creating the 8x10 inch negatives that would gain him a reputation as a renowned photographer and cartographer. He was a pioneer in color photography as well, taking the first large format color transparencies ever exposed on a wilderness expedition in Alaska’s Glacier Bay in 1940. Throughout his photography career he worked closely with the Research Laboratories of the Eastman Kodak Company, assisting with film tests and evaluating new aerial photography products.

In 1929, Washburn began his freshman year at Harvard. Although he majored in French Literature and History, he maintained his interest in mountaineering by taking courses at the newly established Institute of Geographical Exploration and by giving paid lectures about his exploits. Throughout the 1930s, as he completed his undergraduate degree and became a lecturer at the Institute of Geographical Exploration, Washburn participated in a number of mountaineering and scientific trips, including: the Harvard-Dartmouth Alaskan Expeditions and the first ascent of Mount Crillon (1933-1934), the National Geographic Yukon Expedition (1935) to map 5,000 miles of unknown terrain, the first ascent of Mount Lucania (1937), and others.

On April 27, 1940, Washburn married Barbara Polk, a Smith College graduate hired as his secretary. Barbara accompanied her husband on many of his cartographic and mountaineering expeditions, beginning with a first ascent of Mount Bertha, Alaska on their honeymoon. Notably, Barbara was the first woman to summit Denali, a feat she accomplished while accompanying Brad on a 1947 expedition called “Operation White Tower.” The couple raised three children together.

In 1939, Washburn became the director of the Boston Society of Natural History’s New England Museum of Natural History. Under his leadership, the museum was transformed into an interactive, dynamic, and family-friendly institution and renamed the Museum of Science. His tenure as director lasted until 1980, but he remained involved with the Museum throughout the rest of his life, acting as Chairman of the Corporation, then Honorary Director, and finally Founding Director.

During his time at the Museum of Science, Washburn still found opportunities to pursue mountaineering, photography, and cartography. Notable achievements include: completing a new map of Denali based on aerial photographs in 1960, leading a 1965 mapping expedition to Mount Kennedy (a mountain in the Yukon named as a memorial to the President), and conducting surveying trips sponsored by the National Geographic Society to the Grand Canyon that culminated in the publication of two new large-scale maps in 1978 and 1981. He also continued to pursue his career in cartography after retiring from the Museum of Science. Most significantly, he led a 1984 National Geographic effort to produce a highly-detailed map of Mount Everest through the use of aerial photography and GPS.

Bradford Washburn died on January 10, 2007 in Lexington, Massachusetts. He was survived by Barbara (who passed in 2014), their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.


138 Volumes (138 volumes in various sizes consisting of: 127 photograph albums containing over 16,200 prints as well as 11 volumes of project notes, documentation of expeditions, and photocopies of Washburn’s original diaries)

60.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged into three series:
Series I. Aerial Photograph Albums, 1929-1994 (inclusive), 1929-1979 (bulk)
Series II. Climbing and Expedition Albums, 1927-1955
Series III. Diaries, Flight Logs, and Supplementary Material, 1935-2019 (inclusive), 1935-1999 (bulk)

Custodial History

Materials in the collection were primarily created by Bradford Washburn between the years of 1927 and 1999, with additional material created by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 1994 and 2019. The collection was donated between 2019-2020 and in 2023 to the Museum by members of the Washburn family.

Related Materials

The H. Bradford Washburn, Jr. Papers in the Archives at Museum of Science, Boston contain materials related to Washburn’s life, including his contributions to the Museum of Science as director, further documentation of his mountaineering activities and their context, and personal papers.

The Bradford and Barbara Washburn Papers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives consists of materials documenting the Washburns’ mountaineering trips and mapping expeditions.

Additional material related to Washburn’s mountaineering activities and aerial photography are held by the American Alpine Club Library and Archive and the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

Processing Information

Some albums are untitled, or have limited titling information that has been derived from brief inscriptions on album spines. Bracketed segments in titles denote added value to help distinguish titles that lack detail or appear multiple times within the collection. For example, there are three albums from 1929 originally titled “Alps Volume 2.” One album has the added value [Blue] and another has [Repeat] to give the albums unique identifiers.

The collection was processed by Archives Volunteer Elizabeth Alverson in 2023.

H. Bradford Washburn, Jr. Albums Collection Finding Aid
Elizabeth Alverson (Archives Volunteer)
August 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
First Edition

Repository Details

Part of the Museum of Science, Boston Archives Repository

One Science Park
Boston Massachusetts 02114