Carleton E. Watkins

American, 1829–1916

Mount Shasta and Whitney Glacier in California, seen from the crater (Shastina), from the US Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel (King Survey), 1870
Black-and-white photographUS Geological Survey

Carleton Watkins, whose photographs of Yosemite Valley inspired its preservation in 1864, journeyed through the California mountains with the geologist and surveyor Clarence King (American, 1842–1901). King’s 40th Parallel Expedition (1867 to 1879) was funded by the US Congress to uncover the country’s “mineral wealth.”

Inspired by Louis Agassiz’s ideas about glaciers, King and Watkins scouted Mount Shasta, believed to be the tallest peak in the country at that time. They subsequently discovered Whitney Glacier, which became the first scientifically observed glacier in the United States.  

Using mammoth 18-by-22-inch glass-plate negatives and a specially designed darkroom wagon, Watkins documented Whitney Glacier in both large-format photographs and three-dimensional views created with a stereoscopic camera. 

In 1872, King published Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada and was appointed in 1879 to become the first director of the US Geological Survey (USGS). Fittingly, this federal agency currently maintains important data on glacial activity and climate change.