William Dall collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Dall regarding the Western Union Telegraph Expedition, 1865-1867

Administrative / Biographical History

William Healey Dall was born on 21 August 1845 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA He entered the service of the Land Office of the Illinois Central Railroad in Chicago, spending his evenings studying at the Chicago Academy of Sciences. In 1865, he was appointed naturalist on the United States Western Union Telegraph Expedition (Alaskan Division), 1865-1867 (leader Robert Kennicott), sent by the Western Union Telegraph Company to survey a route for, and to construct, a telegraph line through Alaska by way of Yukon River and Seward Peninsula, in connection with plans to establish a telegraph link between the United States and Europe by way of Bering Strait. After the death of Kennicott in May 1866, Dall took over the leadership of the scientific work. He remained for a further year to continue his scientific work on the United States scientific expedition, 1867-1868, making a reconnaissance of the geology and natural history of Norton Sound and the lower Yukon River below Nulato. As a result of his three-year residence in Alaska, he subsequently published a report on the country's geography, history, inhabitants and resources.

From 1871 until 1884, Dall was employed by the United States Coast Survey, under whose auspices he continued his investigation of Alaska and the northern Pacific Coast. In 1884, he was appointed palaeontologist to the United States Geological Survey, a post he held until 1925. While working at the US Geological Survey, Dall travelled as geologist on the United States Harriman Alaska Expedition (leader Edward Harriman) in 1899, sailing in George W Elder to the islands of southeast Alaska and into the Bering Sea. He served as honorary curator of molluscs at the Smithsonian Institution from 1868 to 1927 and at the U.S. National Museum from 1880 to 1927. He held the chair of invertebrate palaeontology in the Wagner Institute of Science between 1893 and 1927 and served as honorary curator of the Bishop Museum in Hawaii from 1899 to 1915. He died on 27 March 1927 in Washington, DC.

Published work Alaska and its resources by William Healey Dall, Arno Press (1970) SPRI Library Shelf (49)[1870] The Yukon Territory, the narrative of W H Dall, leader of the expedition to Alaska in 1866-1868, by William Healey Dall, Douglas Mercer Dawson and William Ogilvie, Downey & Co. Ltd London (1898) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(091)[pub.1898]


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and 'William Healey Dall' by C Hart Merriam in Annual Report Smithsonian Institution (1927) p562-566 SPRI Library Shelf (3)[pub.1928] and PBS and Illinois Natural History Society and Smithsonian Institution Archives

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible