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Hiram Bingham III

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Title: Hiram Bingham III  
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Subject: Charles A. Templeton, Punahou School, Augustine Lonergan, Hiram Bingham II, Salem, Connecticut
Collection: 1875 Births, 1956 Deaths, American Aviators, American Explorers, American Protestants, Aviators from Hawaii, Burials at Arlington National Cemetery, Censured or Reprimanded United States Senators, Connecticut Republicans, Explorers of South America, Governors of Connecticut, Harvard University Alumni, Harvard University Faculty, Incan Scholars, Military Personnel from Connecticut, People from Honolulu, Hawaii, Princeton University Faculty, Punahou School Alumni, Republican Party State Governors of the United States, Republican Party United States Senators, United States Army Officers, United States Senators from Connecticut, University of California, Berkeley Alumni, Yale University Alumni
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Hiram Bingham III

Hiram Bingham, formally Hiram Bingham III, (November 19, 1875 – June 6, 1956) was an academic, explorer and politician from the United States. He made public the existence of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911 with the guidance of local indigenous farmers. Later, Bingham served as a member of the United States Senate.


  • Early life 1
  • Explorer 2
  • Prior discoverers of Machu Picchu 3
  • Marriage and family 4
  • Military 5
  • Politics 6
    • Censure in the Senate 6.1
  • Death 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Bingham was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Hiram Bingham II (1831–1908), an early Protestant missionary to the Kingdom of Hawai'i, the grandson of Hiram Bingham I (1789–1869), another missionary. He attended O'ahu College, now known as Punahou School in Hawai'i from 1882 to 1892. He went to the United States in his teens in order to complete his education, entering Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1894. He obtained a B.A. degree from Yale University in 1898, a degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1900, and a Ph. D. degree from Harvard University in 1905. While at Yale, Bingham was a member of Acacia Fraternity. He taught history and politics at Harvard and then served as preceptor under Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University. In 1907, Yale University appointed Bingham as a lecturer in South American history.


Bingham (upper right) with a local guide on a jungle bridge at Espiritu Pampa in Peru, hand-colored glass slide, 1911

Bingham was not a trained archaeologist. Yet, it was during Bingham's time as a lecturer – later professor – in South American history at Yale that he discovered the largely forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu. In 1908, he had served as delegate to the First Pan American Scientific Congress at Santiago, Chile. On his way home via Peru, a local prefect convinced him to visit the pre-Columbian city of Choquequirao. Bingham published an account of this trip in Across South America; an account of a journey from Buenos Aires to Lima by way of Potosí, with notes on Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru (1911).

Bingham was thrilled by the prospect of unexplored Inca cities, and organized the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition[1] with one of its objectives to search for the last capital of the Incas. He in fact, guided by locals, rediscovered and correctly identified both Vitcos (then called Rosaspata) and Vilcabamba (then called Espíritu Pampa), which he named "Eromboni Pampa".[2] However, he did not correctly recognize Vilcabamba as the last capital, instead continuing onward and misidentifying Machu Picchu as the "Lost City of the Incas", as his book titled it.

On July 24, 1911, Melchor Arteaga led Bingham to Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley (possibly including two local missionaries named Thomas Payne and Stuart McNairn whose descendants claim that they had already climbed to the ruins in 1906). Also the Cusco explorers Enrique Palma, Gabino Sanchez and Agustín Lizarraga are said to have arrived at the site in 1901.

Bingham returned to Peru in 1912, 1914 and 1915 with the support of Yale and the National Geographic Society.

Machu Picchu has become one of the major tourist attractions in South America, and Bingham is recognized as the man who brought the site to world attention, although many others helped to bring this site into the public eye. The switchback-filled road that carries tourist buses to the site from the Urubamba River is called the Hiram Bingham Highway.

Bingham has been cited as one possible basis for the "Indiana Jones" character.[3] His book Lost City of the Incas became a bestseller upon its publication in 1948.[4]

Peru has long sought the return of the estimated 40,000 artifacts, including mummies, ceramics and bones, that Bingham had excavated and exported from the Machu Picchu site. On September 14, 2007, an agreement was made between Yale University and the Peruvian government for the return of the objects.[5] On April 12, 2008, the Peruvian government stated that it had revised previous estimates of 4,000 pieces up to 40,000.[6]

Prior discoverers of Machu Picchu

Soon after Bingham announced the existence of Machu Picchu others came forward claiming to have seen the city first, such as the British missionary Thomas Payne and a German engineer named J. M. von Hassel.[7] Recent discoveries have put forth a new claimant, a German named Augusto Berns who bought land opposite the Machu Picchu mountain in the 1860s and then tried to raise money from investors to plunder nearby Incan ruins. An 1874 map shows the site of Machu Picchu.[8]

Marriage and family

Hiram Bingham painted by Mary Foote, sister of Harry Ward Foote, the Yale chemistry professor who was Bingham's companion on his trips to Peru

He married Alfreda Mitchell, granddaughter of Charles L. Tiffany, on November 20, 1900, and had seven sons: Woodbridge (1901–1986) (professor), Hiram Bingham IV (1903–1988) (diplomat and World War II hero), Alfred Mitchell Bingham (1905–1998) (lawyer and author), Charles Tiffany (1906–1993) (physician), Brewster (1908–1995) (minister), Mitchell (1910–1994) (artist), and Jonathan Brewster Bingham (1914–1986) (Democratic Congressman).[9] After a divorce he married Suzanne Carroll Hill in June 1937.

In 1982 Temple University Press published Char Miller's doctoral dissertation on the Bingham family titled "Fathers and sons: The Bingham family and the American mission."


Bingham achieved the rank of captain of the Connecticut National Guard in 1916. In 1917, he became an aviator and organized the United States Schools of Military Aeronautics at eight universities to provide ground school training for aviation cadets. He served the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps and the Air Service, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. In Issoudun, France, Bingham commanded the Third Aviation Instruction Center, the Air Service's largest primary instruction and pursuit training school.[10] He became a supporter of the Air Service in their post-war quest for independence from the Army and supported that effort, in part, with the publication of his wartime experiences titled, An Explorer in the Air Service published in 1920 by Yale University Press.[11]


Hiram Bingham III at his desk in 1917

In 1922, Bingham was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, an office he held until 1924. In November 1924, he was elected Governor. On December 16, 1924, Bingham was also elected as a Republican to serve in the United States Senate to fill a vacancy created by the suicide of Frank Bosworth Brandegee. Bingham defeated noted educator Hamilton Holt by a handy margin. Now both Governor-elect and Senator-elect, Bingham served as Governor for one day, the shortest term of any Connecticut Governor.

Bingham was re-elected to a full six-year term in the Senate in 1926.

Senator Bingham was Chairman of the Committee on Printing and then Chairman of the Committee on Territories and Insular Possessions. President Calvin Coolidge appointed Bingham to the President's Aircraft Board during his first term in the Senate; the press quickly dubbed the ex-explorer "The Flying Senator".

Bingham failed in his second reelection effort in the wake of the 1932 Democratic landslide following the Great Depression and left the Senate at the end of his second term in 1933.

During World War II, Bingham lectured at several United States Navy training schools. In 1951, Bingham was appointed Chairman of the Civil Service Commission Loyalty Review Board, an assignment he kept through 1953.

Censure in the Senate

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee investigated an arrangement between Bingham, his clerk, and a lobbyist who agreed to pass information on to Bingham's office after executing a plan that was irregular, "even by the standards of his day." Bingham took his clerk off duty, and paid his salary to the lobbyist, thus allowing him to attend as a Senate staffer to closed meetings of the Finance Committee's deliberations on tariff legislation.

The initial ruling of the Judiciary Subcommittee was a condemnation of Bingham's scheme; but recommended no formal Senate action. Subsequently, Bingham decided to label the subcommittee's inquiry as a partisan witch hunt, provoking further Senate interest which eventually led to a resolution of censure that passed on November 4, 1929, by a vote of 54 to 22.[12]


On June 6, 1956, Bingham died at his Washington, D.C. home. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

See also

  • Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson, Regal Books, Ventura, CA, 1981. ISBN 0-8307-0925-8, pages 34–35


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ The trail less trampled on in USA Today by Gene Sloan, September 23, 2005: "The iconic mountaintop citadel, discovered less than a century ago by American explorer Hiram Bingham, the inspiration for Indiana Jones, is a thrilling reward after days of exertion."
  4. ^ Lost City of the Incas biographical profile from the United States Senate website
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Perú en reclamo por Machu Picchu
  7. ^ The fights of Machu Picchu: Who got there first? - The New York Times
  8. ^ So, was the 'lost' city of Machu Picchu ever lost? - The Independent
  9. ^ Portrait of an Explorer, biography of Bingham by his son Alfred, Iowa State University Press, Ames, 1989. ISBN 0-8138-0136-2
  10. ^ p. 33
  11. ^ Bingham, Hiram Yale University Press, 1920. 260 pages
  12. ^ U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > Historical Minutes > 1921–1940 > Senator Censured in Lobbyist Case

External links

  • Works by Hiram Bingham at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Hiram Bingham III at Internet Archive
  • Works by Hiram Bingham III at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Works by Hiram Bingham at Google Books
  • Guide to the Records of the Yale Peruvian Expedition, including Bingham's diaries
  • The Lost City of the IncasSelection from Bingham's
  • Machu Picchu on the Web - The Discovery
  • , by Hiram BinghamInca Land
  • by Alfred M. Bingham web siteThe Explorer of Machi Picchu
  • Descendants of Hiram
  • Bingham in fur coat with Orville Wright and Amelia Earhart at dedication of Wright Brothers National Memorial; Kitty Hawk North Carolina, December 1928
United States Senate
Preceded by
Frank Bosworth Brandegee
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Connecticut
Served alongside: Frederic Walcott
Succeeded by
Augustine Lonergan
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles A. Templeton
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
John H. Trumbull
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