William James Morden was born in Chicago, Ill. on January 3, 1886 to a wealthy family with a railroad business. He graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University in 1908 with an advanced degree in engineering, which he put to use while working for his family’s company before serving as a lieutenant in the Army Engineers Corps in France during WWI. Morden began his life as an explorer in 1921 when he took off on his first journey, an AMNH expedition, which he personally funded, to the Yukon Territory. Four major expeditions followed which were also under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. These included voyages to central Asia for the Morden-Clark Asiatic Expedition in 1926 and the Morden-Graves Expedition in 1929-1930, and to Africa for the Morden African Expedition in 1922-1923 and for subsequent African Expeditions conducted in 1947 and 1953. He also traveled to Alaska on a bear hunting trip in 1949.
Morden’s expeditions primarily took place to gather specimens for the museum, he and his team also extensively filmed their experiences while traveling. His 1947 expedition to Africa yielded artifacts and film footage of a number of tribes. William James Morden died a very unhappy man in his home in Chappaqua, NY on January 24, 1958 at age 72 after a struggle with alcohol.
Irene Hambright Morden, Morden’s second wife, was an active participant on some expeditions and the two completed a book about their experiences in Africa entitled Our African Adventure, published in 1954. She also kept detailed journals while traveling, which can be found along with Morden’s in this collection. Irene also wrote a number of articles about her time abroad and submitted them to a variety of publications.
William James Morden 1886-1958. Morden, Col. William James (1886-1958) African Explorer. Vertical Files, American Museum of Natural History Research Library.
Col. William James Morden, Explorer’s Journal 1958. Morden, Col. William James (1886-1958) African Explorer. Vertical Files, American Museum of Natural History Research Library.
One of Morden’s most fruitful expeditions, detailed within this collection, is the Morden-Clark Asiatic Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. It was funded and organized by Morden and co-directed by James L. Clark, a noted scientist and explorer and the Assistant Director of the Museum. The main objective was to secure specimens of the rare Ovis poli sheep for the Museum’s Asian Hall of Mammals.
The expedition left the United States in January of 1926 and journeyed to Central Asia including parts of Russia, Mongolia and China. In the mountain ranges of Pamir and Tian Shan the team collected specimens of Ovis poli, Roe deer and Ibex. The team arrived back in February of 1927. Morden would also take part in another Central Asiatic journey in 1929, the Morden-Graves Expedition, but was not present for the entire expedition due to ill health.
In 1922 both William and his wife Irene went on their first AMNH expedition to Africa, the Morden African Expedition. Returning to Africa in 1947, 1953, and 1956, the Mordens took a more ethnological approach and became interested in learning about the people of Southwest Africa, most notably the Turkana tribe. They were able to bring back to the Museum a variety of artifacts for display, and (as with the expeditions to Central Asia) reels of film footage showing the landscape, animals, and people.
The American Museum of Natural History Fifty-Ninth Annual Report for the Year 1927. American Museum of Natural History Research Library.