Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt

© The Field Museum, CSZ51815 Suydam Cutting, Roosevelt, and George K. Cherrie on the Simpson-Roosevelts-Field Museum Expedition. © The Field Museum, CSZ51815

Sons of famous naturalist President Theodore Roosevelt, Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt inherited their father’s love for nature and conservationist attitude. Over the course of two expeditions through Asia, they would bring back countless specimens for The Field Museum, several of which would become some of the Field’s most notable dioramas. 

In 1924, the Roosevelts decided they wanted to organize an expedition through Asia for the purposes of scientific achievement. They gained the interest of Field Museum President Stanley Field and Director Davies who were able to secure funding from science enthusiast James Simpson for their trip focusing on exploring the Pamirs, Turkestan and the Tian Shan Mountains. On May 1925, the James Simpson-Roosevelts-Field Museum Expedition set course for the Himalayas. Wanting to keep the group small, only two other white men would accompany them on their expedition: scientist George R. Kerrie and photographer Suydam Cutting. The Roosevelts would be the first to procure a collection of the wildlife in this region for an American museum. At the end of their journey they had collected over two thousand specimens of small mammals, bird and reptiles, along with seventy large mammals, including Ovis Poli, the great wild sheep. Located in the Pamirs, the rare Ovis Poli is a subspecies of the Asian Argali discovered by Marco Polo that attracted the Roosevelts to the area in the first place.

© The Field Museum, Z94462_10d This grouping of Ovis Poli was collected by Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and is currently located in the Field Museum's Hall of Asian Mammals. © The Field Museum, Z94462_10d

A couple years after their successful expedition to Asia, the Roosevelts wished to return. In 1928, they approached The Field Museum again, this time with a plan to travel through uncharted territory in Indo-China to capture the giant panda, a feat never before accomplished by a Westerner. Stanley Field found them the proper funding again, this time by introducing them to a generous patron of the Museum, William V. Kelley. Kelley was immediately open to the idea and within a day the Kelley-Roosevelt-Field Museum Expedition was created. 

On their first expedition, the Roosevelts thought it would be best to keep the party as small as possible. This time, feeling more comfortable with the journey to the Orient, they invited Cutting to join them again as well as British scientist Herbert Stevens, naturalist Harold Coolidge to lead the group of scientists on the expedition, Russell Hendee of Brooklyn, Professor Josslyn Van Tyne of the University of Michigan and Doctor Ralph Wheeler of Boston. 

Along with the expanded expedition party, Theodore and Kermit both made preparations to increase the potential scientific gains. The area of Indo-China had barely been explored and there was no official record of the flora and fauna of the region. By inviting along a group of trained naturalists to create a thorough collection of the birds and small mammals along with studying mapping from Dr. Isaiah Bowman of the American Geological Society the Roosevelts were able to make an honest attempt at documenting the Indo-China region.  

The Kelly-Roosevelt-Field Museum Expedition set out in 1928 and proved much more difficult than the 1925 expedition. The group was forced to split up at one point to ensure that they could cover as much territory as they originally intended. The party was also harassed by bandits and kept losing mules carrying their supplies. Nevertheless, they were just as successful as the first time they traveled to China, this time collecting forty big mammals, two thousand small mammals, six thousand birds and reptiles, and amazingly the giant panda. This giant panda was the first panda specimen in America and the first complete specimen to ever be collected Westerner. They were also able to obtain a second panda skin, shot by a local huntsman.

© The Field Museum, Z94466_13d These were the first two Giant Pandas collected by Westerners and can be viewed in the Hall of Asian Mammals. © The Field Museum, Z94466_13d