Bradford Washburn Archives
Bradford Washburn and Barbara Polk
Bradford Washburn and his wife, Barbara Polk

Item Metadata

Biographical Text

Born Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr. (1910-2007), Bradford Washburn built a career as a distinguished mountaineer, aerial photographer, and professional cartographer. His passion for mountain climbing began as a youth on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. He refined his skills as a mountaineer while climbing in the Alps including ascents of the Matterhorn, Grepon, and Aguille Verte.

Bradford Washburn made his first map at the age of 14 of Squam Lake in New Hampshire and he wrote the series “Among the Alps with Bradford” for young boys at beginning at the age of 16. From those early endeavors he went on to become a professional cartographer and produced some of the most accurate maps on the Yukon and Alaskan Region including Mt. McKinley, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Everest. Washburn also produced to scale, models of Everest and the Presidential Range, which the Everest Models resides here at the Bradford Washburn Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado.

Washburn graduated from Harvard and had been an instrumental contributor to the Harvard Mountaineering Club HMC during school as well as a mentor after he graduated. Washburn helped organize and lead the Harvard-Dartmouth Alaskan Expeditions, 1933-1934, just to highlight some of his mountaineering in his college years. After graduating from Harvard, Washburn accepted the position of Director at the Museum of Natural History in Boston, which he helped develop into what is now Boston’s Museum of Science. Washburn maintained the role as Director for over 40 years and received the title of Honorary Director after retiring from the position. At the beginning of his career, he met and married Barbara Polk, now Barbara Polk Washburn and they had three children, Dorothy, Betsy, and Edward.

Bradford Washburn is known best for his aerial photography and the quality and preciseness of his mountain photography. Washburn is recognized for his pioneering spirit and for his exploration in uncharted mountains and glaciers in Alaska and the surrounding Yukon Region. Washburn accomplished several ascents of Mount McKinley, including his first ascent of the West Buttress, as well as ascents and first ascents of other mountains in the Alaskan and Yukon Region. His wife Barbara is also recognized for her contributions to mountaineering as the first female ascent of Mt. McKinley.

Washburn was a lifetime member of the American Alpine Club and donated the materials specifically to the American Alpine Club so that members could directly benefit from the materials that Washburn collected over the years.
Washburn died in 2007, at the age of 96. During his lifetime, Washburn had published several books, articles, and papers including an account on the controversy surrounding Dr. Frederick A. Cook’s claim to be the first person to summit Mt. McKinley. Several biographies and accounts of Washburn’s life have been published in recent years. Please see the American Alpine Club Library Catalog for published resources.

For a detailed chronology, see the following bibliographic reference:
Decaneas, Anthony, ed. Bradford Washburn: Mountain Photography. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1999.

Resources consulted for biographical background:
Richey, Mark. In Memoriam –Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr. 1910-2007. Published in The American Alpine Journal, 81 Vol.49, p.476-478, Harlin III, John, ed., 2007.

Birth Date


Death Date



Bradford Washburn

Types of materials

Correspondence, business records, writings, printed materials, photographs, maps, climbing routes, diaries, ephemera, and artifacts

Physical Contents Extent

Total Small & Regular Boxes: 22 (papers and photographs and artifacts)
Total Oversized Flat Boxes: 6 (oversized papers and photographs)
Map & Print Rolls: 6

Total Linear Feet

45 linear feet


This collection is arranged into series using geographic locations and projects that Washburn initiated and then ordered chronologically within the series or sub-series.

Series I: Alaska, General 1910-2001
Series II: Alaska, Denali National Park, Mount McKinley [Denali] 1898-2004
Series III: Alaska Region, Other Mountains 1904-1998
Series IV: Frederick A. Cook Controversy 1906-2001
Series V: Canada, Yukon Region 1895-1997 [Bulk 1935-1938]
Series VI: Army Air forces, WWII, Alaskan Field Test Emergency and Survival
Equipment, Frostbite 1940-2001 [Bulk 1940s]
Series VII: Himalaya Region 1951-2001
Series VIII: Mount Everest 1926-2003
Series IX: Europe, The Alps, Switzerland, Chamonix 1926-1999 [Bulk 1926-1931] Series X: New Hampshire, Mount Washington State Park, Mount Washington 1924- 1993
Series XI: Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon, Mapping 1968-2003
Series XII: Bradford and Barbara Washburn, Biographical Materials 1914-2002
Series XIII: Barbara Washburn 1940-2001
Series XIV: Photographs 1915-2001
Series XV: Artifacts 1906-1983
Series XVI: Oversized Papers 1922-2000
Series XVII: Oversized Photographs 1912-1997
Series XVIII: Maps 1914-2000

Processing Note

Seven boxes of this collection were partially processed and the biographical and historical notes are based upon the previous finding aid by Amy Legg-Rogers during the spring of 2004. The entire collection was indexed, organized, and described by Katie Worley, Graduate Student Project Archivist, University of Denver Library & Information Science Master’s Program, for the fulfillment of her Capstone. Katie Worley was assisted by Marina Valenzuela, a first year student from the University of Denver MLIS program, in the latter part of the process labeling and re-housing materials. This collection was processed under the supervision of Beth Heller, Director of the Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research, with the exception of two diaries by Barbara Washburn, which are not available for research until 10 years after her death (September 25, 2014).

Access Policy or Physical Access

The photographs in the collection need further conservation and re-housing into proper sleeves.
Appointments are preferred when conducting research with this collection due to its storage location, but walk-ins are accepted.

Intent to Publish

It is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain copyright permission. Permission to examine this collection is not an authorization to publish. It the text or image or object in question is under copyright, permission to publish should be sought from the owners of the rights, typically the creator or the heirs to his estate. The Library may be able to help assist in identifying the copyright holders.

Cite as

Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library, Bradford Washburn Archives, and the material being cited.


“Bradford Washburn Archives,” The Collections of the American Alpine Club Library, accessed May 22, 2024,