Skip to main content

Ekblaw, W. Elmer (Walter Elmer), 1882-1949



  • Existence: 1882 - 1949



Walter Elmer Ekblaw (born March 10, 1882, Rantoul, Illinois—died, June 7, 1949, North Grafton, Massachusetts) was a geologist, geographer and professor who was the lead geologist and botanist of the Crocker Land Expedition from 1913-1917 (1, p. 677).He was a research associate at AMNH in the geology department from 1917-1918. His work on the expedition, as well as at Clark University made him a highly influential figure. He worked until his death in 1949 (2).

Ekblaw, while in school, acts as Editor of the Daily Illini and organizes University of Illinois' first Homecoming. Graduates from University of Illinois (U of I) with a degree in geology.
Teaches at U of I for several years.
Obtains $10,000 in funding for Crocker Land Expedition from University of Illinois trustees. U of I would be one of three sponsors of the expedition, including AMNH and American Geographic Society.
Departs on the Diana for the Arctic with the other members of the Crocker Land Expedition.
Expedition team reaches Etah, begins to set up camp for Crocker Land.
Ekblaw joins expedition team on the dog sled journey north toward Crocker Land, but is forced to turn back at Ellesmere Island, when his foot begins to show signs of severe frostbite.
1914-04 to 1914-08
After returning from the fabled Crocker Land, Ekblaw and team member, Maurice Tanquary, head 120 miles south for further geological and ecological studies. The two become trapped and almost starve until MacMillan arrives and helps them return to Etah by boat.
Ekblaw continues his studies of Arctic wildlife and land formations, naming several fjords and glaciers after expedition members and mentors at University of Illinois.
Ekblaw returns to the US on the ship, Neptune, accompanied by MacMillan and Hovey (the other team members leave Etah on dog sled in order to return home.
Ekblaw acts as Research Associate of Geology for AMNH.
Attends Clark University and, intermediately, Harvard. He graduates with a PhD in geology in 1926.
Professor of geography at Clark University.
Ekblaw launches the peer-reviewed journal, Economic Geography, first published in March of 1925. He would helm the journal until his death, assisting with over 90 issues.
Ekblaw receives the Order of the Polar Star from King Gustav V of Sweden for his work promoting good relations between Sweden and the United States.
Ekblaw dies at the age of 67.

Biographical Note

The son of two Swedish immigrants Andrew and Ingrid Ekblaw, Walter was raised in the Midwest and attended University of Illinois (U of I) to study geology. He was active in the student community, working as the editor of the Daily Illini and organizer of the university’s first homecoming (3, p. 14-15). After graduating in 1910, Ekblaw taught at U of I for several years before joining the Crocker Land Expedition in 1912 (1, p. 677). Ekblaw and Maurice Tanquary (another alum) secured U of I as a sponsor of the expedition, along with $10,000 in additional funding, with the understanding that Ekblaw would collect Artic flora for the university’s collection. The Crocker Land Expedition left New York July 1913, but Ekblaw and several other team members had to turn back due to illness the following year (Ekblaw suffered from frostbite of his foot). A small contingent, Fitzhugh Green, Donald MacMillan and two Inuit assistants, continued north, only to find that the island the expedition was supposed to study was a mirage over the Arctic Ocean (5, p. 925-930). While Green and MacMillan continued north, Ekblaw and Tanquary began to pursue scientific studies elsewhere, particularly around a “Danish trading post 120 miles south of Etah” (3, p. 18-19). The two got stuck at the trading post and were soon running out of food and supplies when Ekblaw came down with snow blindness, suffering till their rescue and return to Etah in August 1914. The team would spend the following winter continuing to study and explore northern Greenland. They planned to return to New York in the summer of 1915, but the team was stuck for two more years at Etah, with a successful rescue not possible till July 31, 1917. Ekblaw spent much of his time carrying on research, discovering and documenting land formations, botanical specimens, and ornithological data. Ekblaw traveled around most of northwestern Ellesmere Island with MacMillan, studying fjords, glaciers, and land formations around the Polar Sea (4, p. 379-414). Upon his return to New York, Ekblaw spent two years working for AMNH as a research assistant in the geology department. He left in 1919 to study at Harvard and Clark in Massachusetts. After he received his PhD from Clark in 1926. Ekblaw taught at the university until his death in 1949. He was the editor of the university’s peer-reviewed journal, Economic Geography. (2). Ekblaw remained active in the Swedish community in Massachusetts and received the Order of the North Star from King Gustav of Sweden in 1947.


(1)“Obituary: W. Elmer Ekblaw,” Geographical Review 39, no. 4 (1949); 677.

(2) "W. Elmer Ekblaw," University of Illinois Archives, ID: 0004942 (circa 1930s).

(3) French, John. "Grand illusion: doom, death, and drama infuse a university of Illinois expedition to the arctic," Illinois Alumni Magazine (January/February 2008): 14-19.

(4) MacMillan, Donald B. "Geographical report of the Crocker Land Expedition, 1913-1917", American Museum of Natural History Bulletin 56 (1928): 379-435.

(5) MacMillan, Donald B. 1915. In Search of a New Land. Part II. New York: Harper's Magazine: 921-930.



Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Crocker Land Expedition field photographs

Identifier: PPC .C76
Scope and Content Note This collection is a small subset of copies of prints from the larger Photographic Collection no. 14 – Crocker Land Expedition field photographs. The photographs in this collection are individually sleeved and arranged in four series. Folder 1 consists of 4 photographs that were taken prior to departure for the Arctic and include images of the S.S. “Diana” in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and group portraits of the expedition team.Folder 2 is divided into two sets. The...
Dates: circa 1913-1917

Crocker Land Expedition papers, 1907-1922.

Identifier: Mss .C76
Dates: Majority of material found within 1907 - 1922

Edmund Otis Hovey records

Identifier: Mss .H683
Scope and Content Note The Edmund Otis Hovey Records collection consists of approximately 50 field notebooks and journals from his and Mrs. Ettie Hovey’s travels around the Caribbean, North America, Europe and the Arctic; as well as, manuscripts of his papers and lectures notes. The collection also includes photographs, postcards, ephemera and newspaper clippings regarding the Crocker Land Expedition that took place from 1913-1917. The collection spans a period of approximately 20 years, beginning in 1890 and...
Dates: 1890-1919

Recommendation, 1919-1923

 File — Box: 1, Folder: 16
Identifier: Mss .H682
Scope and Contents

Correspondence between E. O. Hovey and others, regarding letters of recommendation for various colleagues and former employees.

Dates: 1919-1923