Asian Expeditions

Jun 28, 2013

The Roosevelt children faced a monumental task living up to the life and legend of their famous father. None of them reached Theodore Roosevelt’s level of international fame but they found success in business, politics, and the military. Ted and Kermit Roosevelt also made an impact further afield with two expeditions to Asia that would have made their father jealous. Both expeditions were supported by the Field Museum of Chicago, Illinois and were tasked with collecting zoological specimens.

Kermit was an accomplished world traveler having accompanied his father on his post-presidency African safari and on the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition, where Kermit’s hard work and dedication likely saved the elder Roosevelt’s life. Kermit also served in Mesopotamia during the First World War and traveled widely for business. Ted had less experience in this regard, but had served in Europe during the war and was a successful businessman and politician.

The first expedition for the brothers, the Simpson-Roosevelts-Field Museum Expedition, set out in 1925 to the Pamirs, Turkestan and the Tian Shan mountains. Over two thousand specimens were collected, including the Ovis poli, or Marco Polo sheep, whose reputation and rarity was compared to the “unicorn and the phoenix” by Ted.

Their second effort, the 1928 Kelley-Roosevelt-Field Museum Expedition, set out for an uncharted area of South China. Besides collecting specimens they would also attempt to map the area. The “Golden Fleece” of the expedition was the giant panda, which remained a mystery in the West and had not been scientifically classified. The Roosevelts were once again successful; collecting around eight thousand mammal, reptile, and bird specimens. A panda was also killed, simultaneously shot by both brothers, which was the first complete specimen ever collected by a Westerner and would be the first specimen to appear in the United States.


By Jeff Kubina (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The panda taken by the Roosevelts is on display in the Hall of Asian Mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago.


Nicholls, Henry. The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal. New York: Pegasus Books, 2011. Print.

Roosevelt, Theodore, and Kermit Roosevelt. East of the Sun and West of the Moon. New York: Scribner, 1926. Print.

Roosevelt, Theodore, and Kermit Roosevelt. Trailing the Giant Panda. New York: Scribner, 1929. Print.

“Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt.” The Field Musuem. 2013. Web. 14 June 2013.

Posted by Grant Carlson on Jun 28, 2013 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)  |  Share this post

Carla Lesh said,

My great-uncle, Russell W. Hendee, was a naturalist on the 1928 expedition. He died of cerebral malaria in June 1929 while in Laos for the expedition.

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