Bradford Washburn, 96; museum founder, mountaineer, cartographer explored Everest

From the Associated Press

Bradford Washburn, who founded the Boston Museum of Science and directed a 1999 effort that revised the official elevation of Mt. Everest, has died. He was 96.

The renowned mountain photographer, explorer and cartographer died Wednesday of heart failure with his family at his bedside, said his wife, Barbara.

Washburn climbed some of the world’s most challenging mountains and is particularly known for his photography of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley and for exploring the mountain with his wife.

The effort to remeasure Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest peak, found its altitude was 29,035 feet, 7 feet higher than previously recorded.


“It was exciting,” Washburn said in a 2000 AP interview, “but nothing as exciting as when Ed Hillary got to the top.”

In 1988, Washburn and his wife produced the first highly detailed, comprehensive relief map of Mt. Everest and its surroundings.

“He certainly did have a desire for discovery and he loved to share his knowledge and interpret it so that other people too could share it,” she said. “And that’s what his photography was all about, and what his making maps was all about.”

Washburn made a “remarkable contribution to both exploration and documentation of some of the world’s most beautiful and remote mountains,” said Dunham Gooding of the American Alpine Institute in Bellingham, Wash.


“He was an inspiration to many people because he was very comfortable in settings where there was a high level of the unknown,” Gooding said.

A native of Boston, Washburn ran the Boston museum for 41 years, beginning in 1939. He transformed what was then New England Museum of Natural History from a facility with 12 staffers, a handful of volunteers and about 35,000 annual visitors into the contemporary Museum of Science, which attracts more than 1.4 million people annually and has 300 staff members and 700 volunteers.

He also took the first large-format photos of Mt. McKinley in 1936 and interviewed for the position of navigator on Amelia Earhart’s round-the-world flight. Washburn later said he dropped out because he thought the radios were inadequate.

The Museum of American Mountaineering, scheduled to open next winter in Golden, Colo., will be named for him.


In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, two daughters, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.