Bradford Washburn

Photograph Collection

The Bradford Washburn Collection

The Alaska and Polar Regions Collections holds many of the more than 8,700 large format (8"x10") black-and-white negatives that Bradford Washburn created between 1937 and 1976. These are aerial images he took using methods that ranged from shooting photographs out the open door of a Bellanca Skyrocket with a modified Fairchild K-6 camera resting on his lap, to the use of a Learjet whose rear emergency window had been modified with a three-quarter inch optical glass photo-window.

The University does not hold all of Washburn’s negatives. Some negatives remained with Washburn; others were sent to his authorized art gallery dealer: Panopticon. This gallery produces high-quality art images and posters.

The keyword index

This is a geographical index; primary access is by the name of the major physiographic element seen in the image. So, for example, a person interested in Mount McKinley could type in “Mount McKinley” and would turn up something over 1500 images, each with a reference number and a very brief description. The reference numbers and descriptions are Washburn’s, but the entries have been slightly modified for easier use. If just the word “McKinley” was entered, the number of hits would be even higher as they would include the McKinley Highway, glacier, bar, park station, and river.

A typical entry for Mount McKinley reads:

7418 MCKINLEY, MOUNT RUTH GLACIER, LOOKING N.W. FROM OVER THE END, UP TO MT. MCKINLEY (C) AND MT. HUNTER. 1978-04-02

The negative number is followed by “McKinley, Mount” — the major physiographic designator, the description, and the date the image was taken.

Note that many entries are almost identical, but with a different negative number. When Washburn shot photographs, he routinely tried a number of camera settings; the different images probably represent different filters, aperture openings, and times.

In a few cases, the same negative number will appear more than once, with different geographic designators. This is a cross reference system developed before computers simplified matters. So, to use the example above, it is possible that this same entry appears under “McKinley”, “Hunter, Mount” and “Ruth Glacier.”

When Washburn images have been used in print, the author was supposed to indicate the negative number. This is the same negative number that appears in this index.

The Archives cannot provide any advice or information on the suitability of any image for climbing purposes.

Bradford Washburn: Pioneering mountaineer and photographer

Bradford Washburn was born June 7, 1910, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From the 1920s through the 1950s, he made numerous first ascents and forged new routes among Alaska’s mountain ranges. He also pioneered the use of aerial photography for mountaineering, using methods that ranged from shooting photographs out the open door of a Bellanca Skyrocket with a modified Fairchild K-6 camera resting on his lap, to the use of a Learjet whose rear emergency window had been modified with a three-quarter inch optical glass photo-window. Also a noted cartographer, Washburn’s maps of Mount McKinley and of Mount Everest are renowned. From 1939 to 1980, Washburn served as director of the Boston Museum of Science and has been its Honorary Director (a lifetime appointment) since 1985. His wife, Barbara, joined him on many of his expeditions and is a considered a pioneering female mountaineer in her own right.

For more information on Bradford Washburn, or his wife Barbara Washburn, consult the following books: