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    Explorations in Alaska by the United States Geological Survey

    Encyclopedia Arctica Volume 1: Geology and Allied Subjects

    001      |      Vol_I-0284                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. (Philip S. Smith)


            The first specific federal appropriation for explorations by the United

    States Geological Survey in Alaska was carried in the Sundry Civil Act for

    the fiscal year 1895-96, which was passed by Congress March 2, 1895. The

    amount of money thus provided was $5,000 and was made available for the

    “investigation of the coal and gold resources” of the Territory. Undeterred

    by the meagerness of the funds, the Survey promptly arranged for starting

    the work — the studies of the gold resources under Dr. G. F. Becker and

    of the coals by Dr. William H. Dall ( q.v .). Becker was assisted by C. W.

    Purington and the party was able to visit a number of the mines and touch at

    various points along the southern coast from Sitka westward to Unalaska.

    Much hitherto unrecorded information was gathered in the course of this

    expedition which added greatly to an understanding of some of the major

    geologic features of this part of the Territory. Some delay ensued in the

    completion of the manuscript containing the results of the work, owing to

    Becker’s other commitments so that his findings were not published until

    1897 in the Eighteenth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey,

    1896-97 , Part III, pp. 1-86.

            The field work done by the Dall party was more or less localized around

    coal fields of southeastern and central-southern Alaska. Dall, however, was

    fortunate in having a wide knowledge of many other parts of Alaska through

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    his earlier travels and thus added in his report much information regarding

    some of the other fields than those he had been able to visit in the course

    of his work in 1895. How extensive Dall’s journeys through remote parts of

    Alaska had been before he joined the Survey may be realized when it is

    pointed out that as a young man of 20 years, he had been a member of the

    field group that had been engaged in seeking out a route which c ould

    advantageously be followed in laying out a telegraph line that would con–

    nect America, Asia, and Europe. (See article in another volume on the Western

    Union Telegraph Expedition.) After the abandonment of that project in 1867,

    because it was not needed after the successful laying of the Atlantic cable

    to Europe, he served with distinction in the Alaskan work of the Coast and

    Geodetic Survey until 1884, when he joined the Geological Survey and the

    National Museum. Although Dall, after joining the Survey, did not make trips

    to the Territory other than that noted above in 1895, and later as a member

    of the Harriman Alaskan Expedition, he always retained a keen interest in the

    Territory, and, as the world authority on the paleontology of the late

    Mesozoic-Tertiary groups of invertebrates, kept constantly informed regarding

    all Alaskan matters that pertained to his special field. The results of Dall’s

    studies in 1895, supplemented by information he had gained from other sources,

    were published in the Seventeenth Annual Report of the United States Geological

    Survey , 1895-96 , Part I, pp. 763-908.

            Before passing from these two oldest official explorations by the

    Geological Survey Survey in Alaska, it seems well to recall that even before

    that time three of its members or those who ultimately became its members,

    had made notable contributions through other than official channels to the

    knowledge of the Territory. Earliest of this group was Prof. Israel C. Russell ( q.v .) ,

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    who, in 1889, as a member of the Coast and Geodetic Survey party that was

    concerned with the determination of the position of the boundary between

    Canada and the United States, made a boat trip along the Yukon River from

    the mouth to and beyond the then assumed position of the boundary line.

    In 1890 and 1891, mainly through the auspices of the National Geographic

    Society, Russell carried on extensive reconnaissance surveys in the vicinity

    of Mount St. Elias. In the course of that work he made notable attempts to

    scale the 18,000-foot peak only to be thwarted by exceedingly adverse weather.

    In spite of the failure to surmount the mountain, he gathered a wealth of

    important scientific information regarding the general features of the mountain

    and its environs. The report of the expedition in 1890 was published in the

    National Geographic Magazine (11), and of the expedition in 1891 in the

    Thirteenth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey , 1891-92 ,

    pp. 1-91.

            Another of the Survey men who made a remarkable traverse in Alaska prior

    to the time when the Geological Survey officially entered that field was

    Dr. Charles W. Hayes ( q.v .). The expedition to which Hayes was attached was

    organized and financed by a group of newspapers and was placed under the leader–

    ship of Lt. Frederick Schwatka ( q.v .), who had made an enviable reputation by

    his traverses along the Yukon River in 1883, and in the vicinity of Mount

    St. Elias in 1886. The trip in which Hayes participated was in 1891, and the

    route followed led from near Juneau across country to Lewes and White rivers,

    and thence across the difficult Skolai Pass to the Copper River. The circuit

    thus completed brought the party back to tidewater at the mouth of the Copper

    River. This epic journey afforded knowledge of a vast tract of the great

    mountainous belt that forms part of the Alaska Range and the adjacent highlands.

    The more important of Hayes’ observations were published in the National

    Geographi s c Magazine (6).

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

            The fourth of the precursors of the Geological Survey’s official entry

    into Alaskan exploration to be mentioned here, was Prof. N. F. Reid. In

    1890, under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, Reid made

    intensive investigations of the glaciers and resulting phenomena in the

    vicinity of Glacier Bay. His studies were directed mainly toward obtaining

    a better understanding of the physics of glacial motion and of their rates

    of flow, so he not only made a number of measurements himself but left care–

    fully placed monuments to which subsequent explorers might definitely tie

    their observations and thus record long-time fluctuations in the movements

    of the ice. The results of his first season’s work were published in the

    National Geographic Magazine (10). So exciting were the results of Reid’s

    studies in Glacial Bay that with a small party he revisited the area in 1892

    and continued and expanded his earlier observations. A report of the work

    done in Glacial Bay in 1892 was published in the Sixteenth Annual Report of

    the United States Geological Survey , 1894-95 , Part I, pp. 415-61.

            Returning to an orderly presentation of the story of the Survey’s

    official explorations in Alaska, let us pick up again the record where it

    was dropped at the close of the 1895-96 season. For each of the three years

    following 1895, an annual item of $5,000 was carried in each of the Sundry

    Civil Acts for “the investigation of the coal and gold resources” of the

    Territory. Obviously with the insignificant amount of money thus made avail–

    able, the only projects that could be undertaken were those of very limited

    scope. However, by practicing the utmost economy and restricting the areas

    covered to those that could be reached and studied with least outlay for

    travel and equipment, it was possible, in 1896, for J. E. Spurr, H. B.

    Goodrich, and Frank C. Schrader ( q.v .) to carry a geologic reconnaissance

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    from the head of Lynn Canal across Chilkoot Pass and down the entire length

    of the Yukon River, visting en route most of the then known gold camps of

    interior Alaska. The results of those investigations were promptly published

    and formed the groundwork on which many of the subsequent plans were developed.

    (See Eighteenth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey , 1896-97 ,

    Part III, pp. 87-392.

            As a result of the growing popular interest in Alaska, many of the govern–

    ment organizations began to recognize their responsibilities to carry out

    their functions in the Territory and were able to enlist the interest of

    Congress in making funds available for the enlarge s d task that properly they

    should handle. Among those organizations that received additional recognition

    was the Geological Survey, which had its funds supplemented by an item in the

    Deficiency Act, passed January 28, 1898, for an additional $20,000 for “geologic

    and topographic surveys in Alaska.” Plans were quickly formulated and the

    necessary personnel and equipment to carry them out selected and early in

    April 1898, four groups of geologists and engineers were on their way to their

    field assignments. G. H. Eldridge had general over-all charge of these parties

    when together. The separate project assigned to Eldridge specifically was a

    reconnaissance of the Susitna River, which empties into Cook Inlet; explore

    its course, and to find a suitable pass across from its headwaters into steams that

    flow northward and are tributary to Tanana River. Associated with Eldridge on

    this trip was Robert Muldrow, a topographic engineer. The results of the

    surveys made by this party were published in the Twentieth Annual Report of

    the United States Geological Survey , 1898-99 . Part VII, pp. 1-29.

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

            Two of the other Alaska parties sent out by the Geological Survey, in

    1898, set out together for their journey to interior Alaska from the head of

    Lynn Canal and crossed the mountain belt to the north and reached parts of

    the Yukon drainage system. At the junction of the White and Lewes rivers,

    one section of this group, that with William J. Peters ( q.v .) as topographer

    and Alfred H. Brooks ( q.v .) as geologist, turned westward to carry out

    reconnaissance in the valleys of the White and Tanana rivers, while the other

    section with Edward C. Barnard, topographer, in charge continued down the

    Yukon to conduct surveys in the vicinity of Fortymile River and Eagle. The

    results of the investigations by Peters and Brooks were published in the

    Twentieth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey , 1898-99 ,

    Part VII, pp. 425-94. The topographic map prepared by Barnard of the Fortymile

    district was issued as one of the illustrations accompanying Bulletin 375 of

    the Geological Survey.

            The fourth, and by far the most difficult project undertaken during the

    season 1898 with the Survey’s Alaska funds, was the reconnaissance carried

    out by Spurr and Post in southwestern Alaska. This work called for the

    members of the party to travel by their own canoes from Tyonek; ascend the

    Sus t i tna, one of the great rivers flowing eastward from the Alaska Range;

    enter Cook Inlet n d e ar its head; and find a pass across the mountains that

    would load f t o streams tributary to the Kuskokwi n m River. Arriving on such

    westward-flowing waters, the party travaled in its canoes the entire length

    of the Kuskokwim to the mouth in Bering Sea. Then, as though the successful

    accomplishment of those remarkable traverses merely whetted its zest for the

    tackling of even more arduous tasks, the party undertook to fight its way

    back to Cook Inlet by plunging into additional traverses by which the course

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    of the Kanektok River was explored. Surveys were carried along the north

    shores of Bristol Bay, and then the backbone of the Alaska Peninsula was

    surmounted by way of Nakn a e k River and the lakes adjacent thereto. Finally,

    the explorers again reached the shores of Cook Inlet, where late in October

    they were able to connect with a vessel of one of the regular transportation

    companies and thus return to the States.

            In addition to these four projects which the Survey was able to under–

    take as parts of its own direct program, it was fortunate in having established

    relations with the War Department whereby it was able to participate in certain

    of the expeditions being sent out to investigate parts of the Prince William

    Sound and Copper River regions. By this arrangement a Survey geologist was

    attached to each of the two expeditions that were to make the explorations. line missing cf original p. 6 line 12, fr. bottom

    Walter C. Mandenhall ( q.v .) was the geologist selected to accompany the expe–

    dition led by Captain Edwin F. Glenn. This party, starting near the head of

    Cook Inlet, traveled eastward following the general course of Matanuska River ✓ word missing

    until, finding a pass between that stream and tributaries of Copper River,

    its members continued northward up the valley of the Copper River and

    ultimately reached Delta River, one of the streams flowing northward to join

    Tanana River. The return of this party from its farthermost point close

    to Tanana River followed essentially the same route which it had traversed

    on its outward journey. Supplies for the expedition for the entire period

    when it was in the field has to be carried by the party so that pack horses

    were used for transportation of most of this material, but as is usual with

    pack train parties in cross-country travel in Alaska, all the men made the

    distance of foot. For an account of the scientific results of this work see

    the Twentieth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey , 1898-99 ,

    Part VII, pp. 265-340.

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

            The other Alaska expedition sent out by the Army, in 1898, was , under the

    leadership of Capt. William H. Abercrombie. To this party was a rr tt ached

    Frank C. Schrader (q.v.) as geologist from the Survey. This expedition

    started from Valdez and proceeded northward across Valdez Glacier, crossing

    the Chugach Mountains, and reaching the Copper River valley. In mid - season

    the group divided into two separate units, one of which was placed under the

    charge of Schrader. The party under Schrader spent the rest of the open

    season traversing parts of the Copper River plateau and the southern part

    of the Copper River basin. Transportation for the supplies of this party

    was effected by pack train but many of the side trips made by members of

    the party involved considerable p b ack-packing by each of the members over

    difficult terrain. An account of the results obtained by Schrader was

    published in the Twentieth Annual Report of the United States Geological

    Survey , 1898-99 , Part VII, pp. 341-423.

            In referring to the dates relating to certain of the Survey’s Alaska

    project, the reader should distinguish carefully between the dates applying

    to the specific appropriation to which the work was charged, or that one on e

    which the work was n d one, or the date on which the results were published.

    Otherwise one is apt to become confused by the apparent lack of agreement

    between the different dates used for apparently the same exploration. The

    diversities that arise regarding the dates assigned to fiscal matters neces–

    sarily stem from the general practice in the government’s accounting, to

    start the fiscal year July 1 and close it on June 30. Obviously this period

    does not conform at all to that in which exploration work can be done in

    Alaska. As a result, most of the Survey’s projects are started with funds from

    one appropriation and completed with those from another. Indeed it would

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    be impossible to operate if one had to wait until an appropriation became

    available on July 1 and then scramble around getting men and equipment and

    transporting them to the places in Alaska where the work was to be done —

    one would be lucky to be able to have the party arrive in time to turn

    right around and head homeward to avoid getting caught in the oncoming

    winter’s snow and freeze-up. Fortunately many of the Survey’s Alaska appro–

    priations have been made “immediately available” which removed from them

    some of the limitations placed on others that did not contain this provision.

            Of course the date of publication bears little relation to the date

    when the field work is done or the manuscript completed by its author. This

    is because much editing both of the text and illustrations may be required, and

    even after the complete copy is sent to the printer, there are innumerable

    steps to be taken before the completed book is in shape for distribution.

            From the Survey’s standpoint the assignment of a certain project to

    a specified “season” has been found more satisfactory than any other means

    of dating a piece of exploratory work. Obviously the term covers an indefinite

    period of time, generally embracing the four main steps in any well-organized

    exploration, namely, ( 1 ) the period spent in preparing for the job, ( 2 ) the

    time required in performing the actual field work, ( 3 ) the analysis and

    interpretation of the observations made, and ( 4 ) the preparation of a report

    setting forth the accomplishments and conclusions reached. Of course there

    are occasionally projects undertaken which are planned to require several

    years for their completion, but ordinarily the Survey’s Alaska explorations

    have been laid out so that by the time a geologist or topographer has finished

    his former work, he would be ready in the spring to make his plans for the

    ensuing exploration. The field work is done during the summer and fall.

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    During the winter he completes the working up of his notes, makes the

    microscopic studies of the rocks and minerals he collected, submits his

    fossils for identification, and does the necessary writing of his report

    accompanied by maps and illustrations, so as then to be ready to prepare

    plans for his next expedition. That calls for a strenuous schedule but it

    was long the proud aim of the technical members of the Alaska group to see

    that they maintained that pace. The foregoing explanation may be summarized

    by saying that the term season as here used includes the preparatory and

    field work of that year and the office and laboratory studies of the succeed–

    ing year in which the job was brought to completion.

            In determin in g the period during which the Alaska field season is done

    it may not be amiss to note that the time of starting or closing the Survey’s

    field season is governed by climate and weather conditions rather than the

    comfort or whims of the individuals. As is evident, geologic observations

    cannot readily be made when there is even a thin covering of snow to obscure

    the surface features, and travel with pack train or by boats is impossible

    when forage for the animals is lacking, or when the streams are locked in

    their sheaths of winter ice. Of course, on certain of the expeditions when

    extensive travel was required to reach the field of operations and heavy

    supplies had to be dragged in by dog teams, the winter season proved to be

    the most advantageous for cross-country travel and a number of the parties

    took advantage of these conditions to get to their appointed fields before

    the snow and ice disappeared.

            The startling discoveries of placer gold in the Canadian Klondike in

    1897-98 led to the unprecedented rush of miners and others anxious to make

    their stakes in the new Eldorado. This stampede into our neighbor’s territory

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    soon led many of those who did not get suitable properties in that camp to

    overflow into Alaska e a nd take up their search for the noble metal there.

    As a result new discoveries were made which extended at intervals all the

    way to remote Seward Peninsula and the fabulous Nome gold fields. Tens of

    thousands of seekers after the promise of quickly acquired wealth thronged

    to the Territory and overran even some of its most remote tracts. The

    Survey’s task in assisting these hordes of earnest but generally poorly

    informed searchers after mineral deposits called for more than ordinary

    effort because so few of the physical features of the country were known.

    The available maps of the back country were so lacking in accuracy that they

    were of little use in showing even the general relations of one gold field

    to another, and the geologic setting of most of the mineral deposits was not

    even indicated.

            It was, therefore, important under this situation that the first atten–

    tion should be given by the Survey to getting together quickly general infor–

    mation regarding the most important areas and making it available to the

    public at the earliest opportunity. This led to the undertaking of broad

    reconnaissance surveys which should cover extensive tracts of country rather

    than focus attention on intensive studies of small, restricted tracts. This

    led to the adoption of a general publication scale for the Survey’s Alaska

    maps of four miles to the inch (1:250,000) by which 2,000 to 5,000 square

    miles of country could be covered by a single Survey party in a season. Such

    a party usually consisted of a geologist and his assistant, a topographer and

    his helper, together with necessary camp hands as were required to look after

    the horses if a pack train was used, or boatman if boats were used for trans–

    portation, together with ax men and such other special camp hands as might be

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    required. Inasmuch as practically all these parties operated at considerable

    distances from any regular source of supplies, they were of necessity forced

    to carry all of the e quipment and supplies that they would need for the entire

    time they were in the field. As the work progressed, modifications in the

    general procedures were worked out to make them best adapted to the local

    conditions encountered but it is interesting to note that the general plans

    as originally laid down were the basis on which most of the exploratory work

    for the next forty years was performed . Its success is to be measured by the

    fact that it permitted the covering of hundreds of thousands of square miles

    without a single serious accident under the most rigorous conditions and

    yielded geographic and geologic information of incalculable value at a cost

    of only a few dollars per square mile.

            The early organization of the Survey’s work in Alaska was more or less

    of an adaption of the methods that had been developed in the States for

    comparable work there, directed by a group especially designated for the

    task. It early became apparent, however, that proper planning and management

    called for specially close familiarity with the local situations that had to

    be met. Thus it was not long before it was recognized that the committee

    type of management which had been used in handling the Survey’s Alaska work

    in the early days must give way to more direct one-man planning and respon–

    sibility. Thus, in 1903, a separate unit was established as the Division of

    Alaskan Mineral Resources, as part of the Geologic Branch of the Survey.

    Brooks, who since 1898 had been engaged in Alaskan work, was designated as

    the geologist in charge and retained his leadership of its work until his

    death in 1924.

            It would be too time-consuming to recount here the individual projects

    that were undertaken during each of the ensuing years by the Survey’s Alaska

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    unit. A full statement of the accomplishments of each year is given in the

    official administrative report of the unit for the appropriate year from

    1904 until the close of 1931. Subsequent to that date the publication of

    this particular report was discontinued and the work was described in more

    general terms in the annual report of the Director to the Secretary of the

    Interior, or in the hearings before the House Subcommittee on Interior

    Department appropriations.

            Although it has seemed fitting to pass over without detailed mention

    the year-by-year accumulations of geographic and geologic information that

    were collected and interpreted for the public by the Alaska unit of the

    Survey, there were a number of outstanding events that served to highlight

    certain of the normal yearly accomplishments and thus merit being singled

    out for special mention. Necessarily, as the work progressed the cruder

    reconnaissance and exploratory surveys that had been adequate in the earliest

    work were supplemented by more and more detailed intensive work and certain

    of the greater mining camps were studied with great care. As a result of

    this higher-grade work, detailed geologic and topographic maps were prepared

    to cover the great lode-gold camp near Juneau and the placer-gold camps near

    Nome and Fairbanks. Funds, however, were always too inadequate to permit

    much of this detailed work being done and even after fifty years of the

    Survey’s work in Alaska, less than one per cent of the Territory had been

    covered by such detailed maps and reports.

            Specific mention should be made of one phase of the Survey’s Alaska

    work, namely, the annual canvass of all the mines and prospects so as to

    obtain authoritative statistics of the production of minerals from Alaskan

    deposits. The tabulations of the records were promptly published and up to

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    1943 afforded the most reliable information as to the progress of mining in

    the Territory. These annual summaries included not only statistical data

    but also notes on all of the late developments and even of some of those that

    were in prospect. These reports were based on hundreds of schedules sent out

    not only to the individuals known to be mining but also to mints, assay offices,

    banks, express companies, smelters and refineries, and selected individuals,

    supplemented by the notes gathered by the various members of the field staff

    of the Survey in the course of their explorations through the Territory.

            In 1906, the Alaska unit, in addition to its other duties, began to

    carry on explorations and examinations of the Territory’s water resources.

    At first these studies were concerned mainly with the quantity of water

    available at various localities for mining operations. This was an especially

    welcome service to miners because throughout most of central Alaska where

    there were the great placer-mining camps, water was one of the controlling

    factors which often spelled the success or failure of an enterprise. Through–

    out most of central Alaska, the annual precipitation is less than 15 inches

    or that of a semiarid country. The success of the water resources investi–

    gations concerned with the quantity of water available led before long to a

    study of the potential resources of water power in the Territory. These

    examinations were more or less closely confined to the southern and south–

    central coastal regions where the glacial sculpturing of the country had

    produced catchment basins separated by rocky gorges with swift flowing

    streams or waterfalls, and where the annual precipitation was often more

    than 100 inches. A study of the hot and mineral springs was also made and

    109 such springs were reported by Gerald A. Waring (13). Unfortunately, the

    need to use the all too meager funds available on more pressing investigations

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    necessitated the dropping of the water resources work in Alaska by the

    Survey in 1920 and it was not resumed until 1946. (For reports issued

    by the Geological Survey on the water resources of Alaska see (2; 3; 4; 5;

    7; 8; 9; 12). References (4) and (12) relate mainly to potential water


            In 1907, the installation of a new director, Dr. George Otis Smith,

    as head of the Survey changed in part the accent that heretofore had been

    placed on phases of the Survey’s work both in the States and in Alaska.

    Smith was a highly trained scientist but he had long had close personal

    contact with practical problems not only is his official work but also in

    his personal affairs t s o that he brought a high degree of business acumen to

    his new job. The organization, therefore, soon became imbued with the

    sprit not only of doing scientific work superlatively well but also keeping

    in mind that the work should be of distinct use to the public from whom came

    the funds that allowed the Survey to function.

            What effect this modification of the Survey policy may have had on the

    larger policies of the nation cannot now be unscrambled from the records of

    the past. It is certain, however, that toward the close of the administration

    of President Theodore Roosevelt one of the great issues of the day was the

    question of “conservation” of the nation’s resources. True, there was much

    confusion as to the meaning of the term because followers of Gifford Pinchot

    seemed to feel that it implied the locking up of the nation’s assets whereas

    others, including the Survey, regarded “the wise utilization” of the nation’s

    assets as better defining the aim of the movement. Whatever should have been

    the correct interpretation of the phrase, it soon became a question around

    which acrimonious disputes raged for several years. This had a serious

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    repercussion on Alaska because, while raging, the problem of Alaskan develop–

    ment cane into prominence.

            One school of thought fought to prevent the opening-up and exploitation

    of any of that country’s mineral resources whereas the other saw that if the

    Territory was to be opened up it would be necessary to make inducements to

    business sufficiently attractive to compel attention. There were ample grounds

    for differences of opinion as to how far either policy should be carried, but

    there was no justification for the mud-slinging and falsifications that were

    injected into the controversy by the “look tight” school. Before the con–

    flict waned the President had been forced to call for the resignation of

    Pinchot and accept the resignation of Secretary of Interior Ballinger.

    Unfortunately even this solution of the feud could not avoid irreparable

    damage on the innocent bystander, Alaska. Alaska, by discouraging the active swing toward

    development that had been in progress — ✓ (line missing cf. original p. 14, 4 line fr bottom)

    and those effects have not yet been fully dissipated.

            Although gold valued at nearly $200,000,000 had been mined from Alaska

    deposits by the close of 1911, it was readily apparent to any thoughtful

    geologist or mining engineer that the mineral resources of low unit value

    could not be profitably developed unless improved transportation facilities

    were available to get the product to market. Gold, because of its high unit

    value, suffered less because of lack of transportation than any of the other

    mineral products — a million dollars worth of gold weighing less than three

    tons — but if gold mining was to be done on a large scale, the working of

    low-grade ore deposits would require the importation of heavy equipment and

    supplies that necessitated far more extensive transportation facilities than

    were then available.

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    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

            Foremost in demonstrating this need to the higher powers was Brooks,

    and so successful was he in instilling this lesson to the awareness of

    President Taft and Congress that, in 1912, a commission was set up with

    Brooks as vice-chairman to report “the best and most available routes for

    railroads in Alaska which will develop the country and the resources thereof

    for the use of the people of the United States.” In spite of the fact that

    the authorization of the commission was not formally made until August 1912,

    it quickly was organized and set out for a field study of the conditions

    adjacent to any of the feasible routes for a railroad from the coast to the

    interior. As a result of the commission’s study, conclusions were reached

    and submitted to the President who forwarded them to Congress with his

    approval on February 6, 1913.

            The most important conclusion reached was “that a route from Cordova

    by way of Chitina to Fairbanks would furnish the best trunk line to the Yukon

    and Tanana waters.” Unfortunately, before the commission’s recommendations

    were acted upon by Congress, a change of administration had occurred and

    instead of adhering to the original plan, President Wilson had allowed the

    substitution of the route by way of Susitna River and Broad Pass for that

    way by Cordova. By this change in location many of the advantages that

    might have aided in the development of the Territory were lost and much

    additional expense and bickering incurred as a constant handicap.

            In spite of the regret felt by the Survey at the selection of the Susitna

    route for the new main line of the railroad, the Survey could not but feel

    that the railroad would aid materially in the development of the country’s

    mineral resources as well as settlement for other purposes. Thus the local

    coal deposits of the Matanuska Valley and the Healy Creek area were afforded

    018      |      Vol_I-0301                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    a rail outlet and unquestionably a number of the large gold-mining enter–

    prises of interior Alaska could have been developed if this means of

    moving large quantities of heavy machinery and equipment had not been

    available. A start on the construction of the government-operated rail–

    road which was called the Alaska Railroad was begun late in 1914 and the

    ceremonies marking its completion took place in 1921.

            Throughout all of the Survey’s activities in Alaska, much of its work

    had centered around the prospective coal resources of the Territory. The

    early investigation of Dall had been followed up by those of G. C. Martin

    and others until a considerable body of facts had been built up. Contem–

    poraneously with or antedating this work in Alaska, the geologists in the

    States had awakened to the stupidity of the way in which certain of our

    mineral resources had been alienated from the general use of the pubic by

    the existing laws. Thus for many years prior to 1914 the government had been

    disposing of its coal lands at a set price per acre regardless of the amount

    of coal contained therein — the only qualifying condition being whether or

    not the land in question lay within a distance of five miles from a railroad.

    This was obviously an unwise policy because in Alaska certain coal beds were

    as much as forty feet thick whereas others were of less than minable thickness.

    t T hen too the quality of the coal in the different areas differed widely in its

    heating value as some were high-grade anthracites and others were low-grade


            To be fair both to the government and the prospective purchaser, it was

    evident that all of the various factors entering into setting a value on a

    specific tract of coal land should be determined before its value could be

    properly appraised. Although this procedure was obviously fair to both parties,

    019      |      Vol_I-0302                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    there was considerable opposition to substituting it for the former and then

    existing practice. Persons wishing to grab for themselves some of the par–

    ticulary high-grade coal lands cheaply, fought against any action that would

    increase the price they would have to pay for the lands they coveted. Of

    course the fight to pass the necessary legislation was conducted mainly by

    other than members of the Survey, but its geologists were constantly being

    called on the supply technical information needed by both sides in the hearings.

    Finally, in 1914, an act “to provide for the leasing of coal lands in the

    Territory of Alaska and other purposes” was passed by Congress and approved

    by the President. Since that time none of the coal lands in the Territory

    have been allowed to pass permanently into private hands but have been leased

    to applicants under the terms of the law and the proceeds received therefrom

    have returned to the public pocketbook and thus been available for the benefit

    of all out citizens. This leasing policy was later adopted for application

    in the disposal of coal and certain other types of mineral lands in the

    States proper so that no longer are valuable mineral lands disposed for a


            The necessity of placing proper valuation on the coal lands thus became

    a matter for the joint application of the specialized knowledge of members

    of the General Land Office, the Bureau of Mines, and the Geological Survey.

    Close cooperation was established for coordinating the activities of these

    different offices, and intensive studies were made in the field for the proper

    carrying out of the tasks assigned respectively to the different agencies.

    As a result, the two large coal fields adjacent to the Alaska Railroad, which

    of course, were susceptible to early development, were examined and subdivided

    into appropriate leasing blocks that could be offered for lease to the public,

    020      |      Vol_I-0303                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    while at the same time certain ones were set aside for retention by the

    government for its own uses, such as making coal available in emergencies

    for the maintenance of the Alaska Railroad or other national uses.

            While these Alaska activities were in the process of formulation or

    beginning to take shape, the heavy war clouds that had long been hanging

    low over. Europe finally broke and the world was precipitated into war.

    At first, the direct effects on the work of the Geological Survey and

    especially on its Alaska work was relatively slight. As time went on, how–

    ever, it became increasingly evident that this nation must have an inventory

    of its assets not only for its own protection but also to find out what

    supplies it could afford to make available to other nations in whose

    success we were vitally concerned. Thus, a number of the geologists of

    the Division of Alaska Mineral Resources were assigned to make special

    studies of those mineral commodities which might be significant, especially

    such scarce materials as tin, tungsten, and chromium. As our nation’s

    involvement in the war became more and more imminent, many of the members

    of the Division felt the urge to place their personal services more directly

    in the military forces of their country. Of the several who left the unit

    for this reason, none made a more direct contribution to the nation’s mili–

    tary might than Brooks and J. W. Bagley. Brooks early was placed on General

    Pershing’s staff as chief geologist of the American Expeditionary Forces and

    left in May 1917, for field service in Europe. His ready grasp of the aid

    geology could render the troops in the field in the siting of structures for

    defense and offense, water supplies, and sources of mineral supplies for

    purposes of construction or indicating points of attack within the enemy

    lines made his advice constantly sought by his brother-officers, and earned

    021      |      Vol_I-0304                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    him high commendations from his superiors. He had been advanced in rank

    to that of lieutenant colonel by May 1919, when, at the close of the war,

    he was relieved from his military duties and resumed those of geologist in

    charge of the Geological Survey’s Alaska work.

            The particular contribution which Bagley was able to make to the nation’s

    military program during the First World War was an outgrowth of his regular

    duties as a topographer engaged in the Survey’s Alaska work. This is not

    the place to try and trace in detail the various steps that led to this

    proficiency. Suffice it here to state that because of the short working

    season in Alaska and the enormous tracts to be mapped, the Survey engineers

    had long given special consideration to devising short cuts or other means

    by which their work could be expedited. As a result of Bagley’s studies of

    this problem he had devised methods and equipment for obtaining cartographic

    data from photographs taken in the field (1). Examples of maps produced by

    these methods so impressed the responsible Army officials that early in the

    war they induced him to devote his time exclusively to carrying on experiments

    for further perfecting the method and equipment and for making it applicable

    not only to photographs taken from ground stations looking out horizontally

    over the visible terrane, but also to photographs pointed downward from

    high-flying airplanes. So successful was Bagley in this work that he became

    the foremost exponent of this method of mapping in North America and remained

    so during the rest of his career in the Army and as professor in the

    Geographical Institute at Harvard University. Contributing in no small

    measure to the success of Bagley during the early years while still members

    of the Geological Survey was the work of F. H. Moffit and J. B. Mertie, Jr.

    of the Alaska unit.

    022      |      Vol_I-0305                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

            For many years the presence of petroleum had been recognized at a

    number of places in the Territory but at only one had there been any com–

    mercial amount of oil produced. In 1920, a bill was enacted relating to

    the Territory’s oil lands, drawn along a line similar to that followed in the

    act providing for the leasing of coal lands in Alaska. The public interest

    was stirred up while this measure was pending in Congress, and the duties

    it imposed on the Geological Survey (to determine the areas subject to the

    qualifications set up by the act) revived interest in the search for and the

    delimitation of the prospective tracts where oil might be developed. This

    led the Geological Survey to reexamine many of the fields that had been

    hastily reconnoitered in the past as well as to examine with care some of

    the areas in the Alaska Peninsula that had not been studied at all heretofore.

    Within the next few years several strongly financed companies undertook to

    make deep drill tests of the tracts in which they were interested. Unfor–

    tunately none of these tests disclosed the presence of commercial quantities

    of oil. Drilling was, therefore, stopped without more than a single test

    hole on a structure so that they cannot be regarded as conclusively indi–

    cating the absence of commercial acc o u mulations of petroleum.

            Although for many years the Alaska work was carried on nominally as

    a division of the Geologic Branch of the Survey, actually it functioned

    essentially as an independent unit under the leadership of Brooks. In 1922,

    Director Smith of the Geological Survey, aware of this condition, decided that

    this situation should be definitely recognized by making the unit an inde–

    pendant branch on equal standing with geology, topography, and water resources.

    Brooks was designated as chief Alaskan geologist in charge of the newly

    established branch. It will be noted that the various functional activities

    023      |      Vol_I-0306                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    which were performed in the States by the different branches all had been

    and continued to be handled for Alaska by the Alaskan Branch.

            Activities in the search for oil throughout the world, as well as the

    scandals that had arisen regarding the administration of certain of the

    government oil reservations in the States aroused the Navy Department into

    having a large tract in northern Alaska in which seeps of oil were known to

    occur, set aside as a Naval petroleum Reserve for its investigation. As a

    result an Executive Order was issued February 27, 1923, setting aside about

    35,000 square miles of country in northern Alaska as Naval Petroleum

    Reserve No. 4. Most of this vast tract of land had been practically

    unvisited up to the time the Reservation was created and the Navy Department

    soon invited the Survey to make necessary explorations to determine the

    geographic and geologic facts regarding the tract. Sidney Paige with two

    other geologists, three topographers, and the necessary camp hands were

    assigned to begin the necessary surveys. Although the parties traveled

    northward as rapidly as conditions permitted, the sea ice in the Arctic Sea

    prevented the vessel on which they sailed from reaching Barrow until late

    in July, and field work was stopped by the oncoming of winter by September 2.

    In spite of this short season, the parties made notable traverses of the

    coastal parts of the Reserve and brought back much new authoritative informa–

    tion bearing on the resources of the area.

            It was evident, that, in the short time available for parties reaching the

    area by ship, extensive inland explorations would be impossible. The obvious

    solution of getting more time for the exploration of the inland areas was to

    send the parties overland during the winter so that they might be on the

    ground to utilize all of the open season in their explorations. This was done

    024      |      Vol_I-0307                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    during the winter of 1923-24. Philip S. Smith and J. B. Merti a e , Jr.,

    geologists, and Gerald FitzGerald and R. K. Lynt, topographers, with the

    necessary camp hands, made the trip from the railroad at Nenana across the

    country with their dog teams to the headwaters of one of the tributaries

    of the Colville River, north of the Brooks Range. Much work was accomplished

    during the late winter and early spring as well as during the regular open

    season so that the Survey estimates three to four times as much could be

    be accomplished during a single year, by parties organized as was that of

    Smith and his associates, as could be done when the parties were transported

    by ships. So well did this method work out that in 1925 and again in 1926

    other parties went to Naval Reserve No. 4 overland during the winter and

    traversed most of the large streams during the summer in the canoes that

    they had brought in by dog team during the winter. As a result of these

    four seasons of work most of the larger geographic and geologic features of

    the Reserve had been outlined. It was obvious, however, that definite answer

    as to prospective value of the Reserve for oil could not be forecast by

    surface examinations alone and that, while such surface examinations should

    be continued, actual drilling tests were required. The costs and difficulties

    of operating in this remote region served to deter the Navy Department from

    carrying the test further and so further exploration was carried on in the

    search for oil in the Reserve until, as will be noted later, the oncoming og

    World War II again focussed the attention of the world on seeking additional

    supplies of petroleum and its pro c d u c ts wherever they might be found.

            Late in 1924, while these various investigations were under way, the

    Survey and geologic science suffered a severe loss through the death of Brooks

    who had so successfully led and participated in the Alaska work for more than

    025      |      Vol_I-0308                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    a score of years. The vacancy thus created was filled by the appointment

    of P. S. Smith as chief Alaskan geologist and the work continued under his

    charge for the next twenty-odd years.

            Perhaps the next incident which affected the Alaska Branch that is

    worth mention was the transfer of certain duties formerly performed by the

    Bureau of Mines in the Territory to the Survey. The necessity for this

    transfer arose through the fact that in 1925 the Bureau of Mines, which had

    long been one of the bureaus of the Interior Department, was transferred to

    the Department of Commerce. As a consequence, many of the activities that

    centered around the technical supervision of the coal- and oil-land leases

    by the government had to be exercised by agencies of the Interior Department.

    Of those having technical knowledge of such matters, the Geological Survey

    was obviously most fit. The former members of the Bureau of Mines who were

    handling Alaska leases were transferred to the Alaska Branch of the Survey

    and for a number of years a field office was maintained at Anchorage, Alaska,

    for the conduct of this work. As a result of this transfer, the Bureau of

    Mines dropped practically all of its Alaska work and, through a cooperative

    arrangement, B. D. Stewart of the Alaska Branch was permitted to render such

    assistance as might be required in matters with which his former association

    with the Bureau permitted. According to internal arrangements within the

    Survey, the Alaska Branch was responsible for the conduct of the field work

    required in connection with the leasing work in the Territory, and the

    Conservation Branch of the Survey in Washington performed the necessary

    headquarter’s office functions. The sum of $22,000 was transferred from the

    Bureau of Mines to the Survey for conducting the Alaska work. This arrangement

    soon lapsed as the Conservation Branch felt that this amount of money was out

    026      |      Vol_I-0309                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    of proportion to that spent on comparable work in the States and, conse–

    quently, the amount was whittled down until after a few years only $7,000

    a year was allotted and soon thereafter (1934), the allotment was cut out

    entirely and the Alaska Branch as such ceased having an active part in the

    supervision of the leasing operations in Alaska.

            The year 1926 was notable in the records of the Alaska Branch because

    it marked the first extensive use of aerial photographs for mapping parts of

    the Territory. The great strides that had been made by Bagley and others

    in the preparation of maps from aerial photographs had provided a tool that

    would be of inestimable value in covering the mountainous belt of south–

    eastern Alaska that was practically inaccessible by any ground methods of

    survey. Unfortunately, the cost of obtaining the necessary airplanes and

    flying personnel put the project far outside the scope of projects that could

    be paid for from the meager appropriations made to the Survey. There were,

    however, so many calls for maps of that part of the Territory that it seemed

    incumbent on the Survey to discover means by which the work could be done.

    Contact was, therefore, made with other government agencies that customarily

    operated airplanes to enlist their assistance, but for a long time the quest

    was unsuccessful. Finally, however, when the matter was broached to the Navy

    Department a responsive spark was struck. The officers recognized the wonder–

    ful training such a project would afford a selected personnel from their

    service and at the same time produce much needed cartographic data. As

    the cost of such training would be essentially the same as that required in

    rand u o m flying over well-known terrane, the Navy was willing to detail a

    squadron of planes with the necessary personnel and equipment to do the work.

    The Survey agreed to attach one of its most experienced topographers, R. H. Sargent,

    027      |      Vol_I-0310                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    to assist in every way possible and to defray such expenses as were properly

    its part of the mapping work. When the project for the aerial work was

    announced, many, if not all, of the governmental agencies operating in that

    part of Alaska tendered their services, wherever possible, to help as best

    they could. With this cordial spirit of cooperation and keen enthusiasm

    to carry out the objects of the expedition, it is needless to say that

    results were eminently satisfactory. Approximately 10,000 square miles

    of country, much of which called for flying under extremely difficult and

    hazardous conditions, was photographed and approximately 17,000 negatives

    were secured. In charge of the Navy’s operations were Lt. Ben H. Wyatt and

    Executive Officer Lt. Wallace M. Dillon, both from the Bureau of Aeronautics.

            Recognition of the value of the method of making maps of southeastern

    Alaska through the use of photographs taken from airplanes was so immediate

    that the Survey was anxious to have the work which had been done so well by

    the Navy continued. For several years, because of the urgency of its other

    duties, it was not possible for the Navy to resume that work. In 1929,

    however, it did become possible for the Navy to take up the task of completing

    the photographing of southeastern Alaska, and a well-equipped expedition under

    the leadership of Lt. Comdr. (now Vice Admiral) A. W. Radford was dispatched

    with the necessary personnel and equipment to carry out the task. Again

    Sargent served as representative of the Geological Survey. Again the expedi–

    tion made an enviable record of accomplishment, completing the photographing

    of some 12,000 square miles of difficult country and virtually completing the

    photographic coverage of the entire Panhandle portion of Alaska.

            Since its completion in 1921, the Alaska Railroad has had a hard struggle

    to make its operating income nearly balance the outgo that was required for

    028      |      Vol_I-0311                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    its expenses. Year after year Congress had been called on to grant supple–

    mental funds to make up the deficiency and was becoming increasingly averse

    to doing so. In 1930 a senatorial c ommittee headed by Clark Howell made a

    trip to Alaska to study the situation and to take such steps as might put the

    railroad on a self-sustaining basis. Various palliative measures were sug–

    gested but the real answer to the situation lay in increasing the amount of

    tonnage handled. Obviously an increase in the hauling of mineral products

    would supply this extra business.

            As a consequence, the Geological Survey was called upon to intensify

    its explorations in the country, tributary to the Alaska Railroad, and ten

    parties were dispatched in 1931 to carry out these special investigations.

    Practically all of the area adjacent to the Alaska Railroad had already been

    reconnoitered by the Survey in its search for mineral deposits so that the

    explorations focussed on intensive examinations of those that might furnish

    heavy commodities such as coal and ores of the metals rather than on placer

    deposits and those that even if successful would yield little tonnage.

    Drilling tests were made to determine the potential resources of the

    Anthracite Ridge coal field in the hope that the finding of considerable

    quantities of high-grade coal might open up an entirely new market for its

    product and thus be of material aid to the railroad. Unfortunately, the

    tests did not disclose a large quantity of fuel superior to that already

    under development and much nearer the regular line of the road. As a further

    means of assisting in the search for workable mineral deposits in the vicinity

    of the Alaska Railroad, a geologist was permanently assigned to the Anchorage

    office of the Alaska Branch whose sole duty was to keep informed of any

    mineral finds that he might assist in bringing into production.

    029      |      Vol_I-0312                                                                                                                  
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            The depression that affected all lines of national endeavor during the

    last years of the Hoover administration and the early years of that of

    Franklin D. Roosevelt took a heavy toll of the Alaskan activities of the

    Geological Survey. Its appropriations were out back to about $30,000 a year

    so that its ordinary program was very much curtailed. Fortunately grants were

    made for continuation of some of its explorations from funds appropriated

    by Congress to the Public Works Administration or Works Progress Adminis–

    tration and the payroll of the Branch was temporarily relieved of the salary

    of the chief Alaskan geologist, who was designated as in charge of the

    administration of the Public Works program in Alaska. The early stages of

    the relief work in Alaska were attended by difficulties because, as elsewhere,

    many of the schemes for making work were highly impractical. For instance,

    much pressure was put behind the plan to send out thousands of unemployed

    city dwellers from the States to Alaska to search for hidden supplies of

    needed minerals. The proponents of this plan suggested that the Geological

    Survey supervise these persons who had no familiarity with mineral deposits

    or even with taking care of themselves in a frontier country and most of whom,

    therefore, would be a serious liability rather than a help in any such special–

    ized task as prospecting or developing mineral deposits, and would entail

    heavy expenses for their transportation and maintenance. The foregoing

    adverse comments regarding certain of the PWA and WPA activities in Alaska

    are intended to apply only to some of the effects on the mineral industry,

    as doubtless the efforts in other directions were well planned and carried

    out the tided over otherwise very difficult situations.

            As the nation began to recover from the severest effects of the depression,

    the Survey’s activities began to resume a more normal tone though the decreased

    030      |      Vol_I-0313                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    appropriations allotted by Congress for that work coupled with the constantly

    mounting costs for its performance necessitated considerable retrenchment in

    the number and kind of projects that could be undertaken each year. Situations

    in Alaska had hardly begun to resume some of their ordinary tenor when the war

    clouds hanging over Europe finally broke with the German invasion of Belgium,

    the Netherlands, and Luxembourg in 1940. The effects on our own country were

    promptly realized by our statesmen who saw that we would inevitably be drawn

    into the conflict. As part of the preparation for this situation, Congress

    made special appropriations for the Geological Survey to carry out intensive

    examinations throughout the national domain for those deposits of minerals

    that were in short supply and would be needed for any all-out national war

    effort. Part of these funds for “strategic minerals” were allotted for

    exploration in Alaska. Funds for this search were regularly granted by

    Congress for each of the succeeding six years and during that period prac–

    tically every known deposit in Alaska that could furnish these needed war

    minerals was reexamined by geologists and engineers of the Survey so as to

    afford reliable current estimates as to the quantities of the different

    minerals that each could be counted on to supply.

            As the outbreak of war involving the United States daily became more

    and more imminent, the other agencies of the government began to draw heavily

    on the accumulated stock of information that had been acquired by the Survey’s

    field men in the course of their explorations in the Territory. It would

    unduly lengthen this article to try to enumerate the various subjects for

    which the knowledge of the Alaskan staff was drawn on to supply information

    needed by the war agencies. All existing maps made by the Branch were avidly

    sought and utilized. The personal familiarity with the terrane in different

    031      |      Vol_I-0314                                                                                                                  
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    areas was invoked in answering questions bearing on the location of airfields

    and in the availability of materials for their c onstruction or camouflage.

    With these countless calls for service and the demand for men for the

    Armed Forces, the Survey was sorely put to it to get and maintain the staff

    necessary to do even its most essential tasks. Of course the declaration,

    in October 1942, that gold mining was no longer considered an essential industry cut

    off one line of investigation by the Survey, but for each item dropped a

    score of new calls for service seemed to arise.

            Of all the lines in which the exploration of the Survey’s Alaska unit

    were utilized by the military agencies, none made a greater or more spectacular

    contribution than the topographic mapping for the Army Air Forces. As has

    been noted, the topographers of the Alaska Branch had long specialized in

    catching and recording the major aspects of the terrane and quickly producing

    maps that were not cluttered up with a maze of intricate detail. In the

    realization of this aim they had devised and were familiar with various

    methods for the recovery of cartographic data from photographs taken from

    fast moving airplanes and translating the information into maps covering

    extensive areas. When the Army Air Force reviewed the situation which it

    faced if a global war was to be wage s d , it immediately became apparent that

    tremendous areas in North America as well as in all other continents were

    little more than blank paper on even the best of existing maps. It was evident,

    therefore, that steps must be taken at once to remedy this situation or

    invaluable personnel and equipment would be jeopardized in the long-range

    operations that must be undertaken. By fortunate chance some of the officers

    responsible for the formulation of the War Department’s policies relating

    to mapping were acquainted with the Survey’s Alaska maps and with FitzGerald

    032      |      Vol_I-0315                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    who was then chief topographic engineer of the Alaska unit. They readily

    appreciated that for fast flying planes the amount and character of topo–

    graphic detail shown on these Alaska maps was adequate and could be quickly

    grasped by the pilot and so guide him safely on his course. The problem was

    to map with a minimum of delay enormous areas of unsurveyed country adjacent

    to the routes to be traveled. Obviously this could only be done speedily by

    aerial photographic methods. The details of this program were worked out

    under the leadership of Capt. Minton M K aye of the Air Forces and FitzGerald

    of the Alaska Branch. New photographic instruments were devised and tested

    and the whole procedure of working the data up into maps was organized on

    more or less of an assembly-line basis, so as to use largely unskilled

    personnel who had no previous technical cartographic experience. At no time

    was it possible to get adequate personnel to carry on the work on as extensive

    a scale as was desired, but in spite of all obstacles the work progressed

    rapidly. The new system, called the Trimetrogon method from the trade name

    of the lens e used in the aerial cameras selected, rapidly was adopted by

    the Army Air Forces as the main method of preparing the maps it needed for

    its flyers in their flights throughout all parts of the world. Fit s z Gerald

    was subsequently commissioned and placed in charge of all this mapping pro–

    gram, and by the end of the war had turned out new maps, covering about

    15,000,000 square miles of the earth’s surface, a feat of “exploration”

    unparalleled in the annals of cartography. It earned for him the

    Distinguished Service Medal, and for the rank and file under him commendations

    from the highest military authorities for a good job well done.

            After a lapse of nearly 20 years, the Navy Department, in 1945, began

    to take renewed interest in the large Naval Petroleum Reserve that had been

    033      |      Vol_I-0316                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    created for its used in northern Alaska and turned to the Geological Survey

    for help in planning and carrying out some of its explorations that were

    required in connection with proposed developments. These studies have

    involved extensive mapping from aerial photographs supplemented by some

    ground surveys. A score or more ground parties from the Geological Survey

    under the general direction of J. C. Reed and under the immediate charge of

    G. O. Gates have made detailed examinations of almost all of the visible

    geological formations and have prepared accurate cross sections and maps of

    their findings. Several moderately deep wells have been drilled to test

    some of the structures that appeared favorable and various modern electrical

    and gravimetric devices have been freely used to shed whatever additional

    light they could on those features that could not be determined by direct

    observation. Altogether the work has been done in a most intensive fashion

    and with the best technical skill and equipment.

            With the advent of V-E and V-J Days and the cessation of hostilities,

    many of the war activities of the Alaska Branch were allowed to taper off.

    The civilian activities of the Survey, however, began to take on ever-increasing

    prominence owing to the Interior Department’s attempts to foster the development

    of Alaska. Increased appropriations were requested form Congress to permit

    the various kinds of work performed by the Survey in Alaska to be carried

    on much more intensively. To meet this situation, a general reorganization

    of the former Alaskan Branch was undertaken, in 1946, whereby it was abolished

    and the varied kinds of work it had hitherto done were distributed among the

    main functional units of the Survey — thus the geologic work was transferred

    to a new unit under the Geologic Branch, the topographic mapping to the

    Topographic Branch, water resources studies to the Water Resources Branch,

    and the mineral-leasing activities to the Conservation Branch. After more

    034      |      Vol_I-0317                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    than forty years of service on the Survey, Philip S. Smith retired, and

    the general coordination of the diversified activities of the Geological

    Survey was taken over by Dr. John C. Reed, who serves as staff geologist

    to the Director for this special assignment.

            In summarizing the accomplishments of the Geological Survey in the

    exploration of Alaska, it has seemed desirable to omit from the following

    statistics the records of performance during the years subsequent to 1941

    when World War II was in progress. This is because much of the work accom–

    plished during those years does not lend itself readily to specific measure–

    ment and such of the items as could be stated in terms of area were largely

    work performed by the Geological Survey for other governmental agencies

    and paid for by their funds. Limiting the period discussed to that from

    1896 to 1940, both dates inclusive, the Survey has had appropriated by

    Congress directly for its Alaska work $2,927,000. The annual appropriation

    from Congress for these years has thus averaged a little more than $60,000.

    In addition to the foregoing sum, $141,000 was received for the conservation

    or leasing work in Alaska; $252,000 was received for miscellaneous services

    such as the early work done for the Navy Department in connection with the

    Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, from PWA and WPA; and $35,000 for a start on

    the war work seeking “strategic minerals.” The combined sum of all these

    items is $3,355,000. In this connection it may be interesting to point out

    that for six years, 1941 to 1946 inclusive, the funds received by the Alaska

    Branch from all sources was over $3,646,000, or nearly $300,000 more than the

    Geological Survey had at its disposal for all its Alaskan work during the

    45 years it had been operating prior to 1941.

    035      |      Vol_I-0318                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

            Again reverting to the period prior to World War II, the record shows

    that as a result of the foregoing expenditures, the Geological Survey had

    at times sent as many as 12 expeditions to the Territory in a single year

    for exploration. Approximately three hundred thousand square miles of

    Alaska had been mapped by original topographic surveys; about an equal area

    had been mapped geologically; and hundreds of stream measurements had been

    made. Records had been collected and maintained regarding the production

    of minerals to the value of nearly $900,000,000. More than 140 separate

    volumes, some of which contain as many as 10 separate sections covering

    different investigations, have been issued as units of the Survey’s official

    series of professional papers, bulletins, and water-supply papers as well as

    a score or more reports on Alaska which have appeared as parts of other

    Survey volumes. Hundreds of less formal communications have been prepared

    by members of the Alaska Branch for publication in magazines of the scientific

    and technical press that are issued unofficially.

            Much has been learned about Alaska through the explorations of the

    Geological Survey but much still remains for the Survey to do in solving

    more of the problems that our great northern outpost still presents. As

    yet, less than two per cent has been mapped by the Survey with the degree of

    detail that is considered requisite for mapping even the least intensively

    developed areas in the States proper. There still remains much to be done

    in making an adequate [ ?] inventory of the mineral resources of the

    Territory. Many distinctly geologic matters, such as the collection of facts

    relating to character, extent, and distribution of the areas of permanently

    frozen ground in the Territory, have by no means been done adequately in

    spite of the fact that this condition widely affects the successful practice

    036      |      Vol_I-0319                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations

    of farming or the building of roads and structures. Although the work

    already done has accomplished much in making the public aware of some of

    the marvelous scenic features such as the imponderable mountains, the amazing

    glaciers, the majestic volcanoes, the remedial hot springs, and the countless

    other manifestations of Nature’s beneficence and inspiration, many others

    remain to be explored and described so that they may attract sightseers and

    others from all over the world to pay them reverential homage or enjoy their

    eternal lure.

    037      |      Vol_I-0320                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Smith: Survey’s Explorations


    1. Bagley, J.W. The Use of the Panoramic Camera in Topographic Surveying, with

    Notes on the Application of Photogrammetry to Aerial Surveys
    . Wash.,

    D.C., G.P.O., 1917. U.S.Geol.Surv. Bull . 657.

    2. Covert, C.C., and Ellsworth, C.E. Water-Supply Investigations in the Yukon-

    Tanana Region, Alaska, 1907 X X and 1908. (Fairbanks, Circle, and Rampart

    Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1909. U.S.Geol.Surv. Wat.Supp.Pap . 228.

    3. Ellsworth, C.E., and Davenport, R.W. Surface Water-Supply of the Yukon-Tnanana

    Region, Alaska
    . Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1915. Ibid . 342.

    4. ----, and----, A Water-Power Reconnaissance in South-Central Alaska . Wash.,

    D.C., G.P.O., 1915. Ibid . 372.

    5. Grover, N.C. Contributions to the Hydrology of the United States . Wash.,

    D.C., G.P.O., 1915. Ibid . 345.

    6. Hayes, C.W. “An expedition through the Yukon district,” Nat.Geogr.Mag.

    vol.4, pp.118-62, May 15, 1892.

    7. Henshaw, F.F., and Cover, C.C. Water-Supply Investigations in Alaska ,

    1906-7. (Nome and Kougarok Regions, Seward Peninsula; Fairbanks District,

    Yukon-Tanana Region.)
    Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1908. U.S.Geol.Surv.

    Wat.Supp.Pap . 218.

    8. ----, and Parker, G.L. Surface Water Supply of Seward Peninsula, Alaska .

    Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1913. Ibid . 314.

    9. Hoyt, J.C., and Henshaw, F.F. Water Supply of Nome Region, Seward Peninsula,

    Alaska, 1906
    . Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1907. Ibid . 196.

    10. Reid, H.F. “Studies of Muir glacier, Alaska,” Nat.Geogr.Mag . vol.4, pp.19-84,

    Mar.21, 1892.

    11. Russell, I.C. “An expedition to Mount St. Elias, Alaska,” Ibid . vol.3, pp.53-204,

    May, 1891.

    12. Smith, P.S., and others. Mineral Resources of Alaska, Report on Progress of

    Investigations in 1930
    . Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1933. U.S.Geol.Surv.

    Bull . 836.

    13. Waring, G.A. Mineral Springs of Alaska . Wash.,D.C., G.P.O., 1917. U.S.Geol.

    Surv. Wat.Supp.Pap . 418.


    Philip S. Smith

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