Alexander H. Rice, Jr.

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For the industrialist, Boston mayor, Massachusetts governor, and US congressman, see Alexander H. Rice.
Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr.
Alexander Hamilton Rice Jr in the field.jpg
Rice in the field
Born (1875-08-02)August 2, 1875
Boston, Massachusetts
Died July 21, 1956(1956-07-21) (aged 80)
Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Residence Newport, Rhode Island
Nationality American
Fields Geography
Institutions Harvard University
Alma mater Harvard University
Known for aerial mapping and Amazon River exploration
Notable awards Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur
Spouse Eleanor Elkins Widener (m. 1915)

Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr. (August 29, 1875 – July 21, 1956) was an American physician, geographer, geologist and explorer especially noted for his expeditions to the Amazon Basin. He was professor of geography at Harvard University from 1929 to 1952, and was the founder and director of the Harvard Institute of Geographical Exploration.[1]

Early life and military service[edit]

Rice's grandfather was former Boston mayor, Massachusetts governor and US Congressman Alexander Hamilton Rice. After attending the Noble and Greenough School he earned an A.B. from Harvard College (1898) and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School (1904).[2] In 1915, he married widowed RMS Titanic survivor Eleanor Elkins Widener.

During World War I he volunteered for the surgical staff of the Ambulance Américain in Paris[clarification needed] (1914–1915). From 1915 to 1917 he directed the Hôpital 72, Société de Secours aux Blessés Militaires,[clarification needed] also in Paris. On the United States' entry into the war in 1917, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve, and assigned to direct the 2nd Naval District Training School for Reserve Officers[clarification needed] at Newport, Rhode Island, where he served until 1921.[3] He was awarded the Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur for his service to the people of France.[when?]

In 1922 Rice was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for US Congress from the Massachusetts 12th Congressional District.[4]

Exploration and academic career[edit]

Rice on his 1919–20 Amazon expedition
Miramar, the home Widener planned with her first husband and completed with her second
The yacht specially con­struc­ted for the Rices' Amazon explorations[5]

As a geographer and explorer Rice specialized in rivers.[1][6] On seven expeditions, beginning in 1907, he explored 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 km2) of the Amazon Basin,[6] mapping a number of previously unknown rivers in the northwestern area.[clarification needed]

After his marriage his wife accompanied him on several expeditions,[clarification needed] including a 1920 trip on which "the party warded off an attack by savages and killed two cannibals"[7]—​​"scantily clad ... very ferocious and of large stature".[8] (A subse­quent headline read: "Explorer Rice Denies That He Was Eaten By Cannibals".)[9]

In 1924–25 he ascended the Orinoco River to its headwaters, traversed the natural Casiquiare canal, and descended the Rio Branco to the Amazon at Manaus.[1] This was the first expedition to use aerial photography and shortwave radio for mapping.[10] He also established hospitals for Indians in Brazil, researched tropical diseases, and conducted expeditions in Alaska and Hudson Bay.[11]

His work won him honors[clarification needed] from Italy, England, France and Spain. A 1916 expedition was the subject of a 1918 book by a colleague, William Thomas Councilman.[12] He led his last expedition in 1924–1925.[13]

In 1929 Rice founded Harvard's Institute of Geographical Exploration, to which he and his wife provided a considerable endowment, and which under Rice's directorship became an important center for the science of photogrammetry. Rice's other positions included Curatorsip of the South American Section of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; Lecturer in Diseases of Tropical South America at Harvard Medical School; and Trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. He belonged to the Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars.

When the Institute closed in 1952, Rice retired to Miramar,[14] his wife's family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, where he died in 1956.


Alexander H. Rice, Jr. was a descendant of Edmund Rice, an English immigrant to Massachusetts Bay Colony, as follows:[15]

  • Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr., son of
    • John Hamilton Rice (1849–1899), son of
    • Alexander Hamilton Rice (1818–1895), son of
      • Thomas Rice (1782 – c. 1859), son of
      • John Rice (1751–1808),[16] son of
      • Elijah Rice (b. 1728), son of
      • William Rice (c. 1700 – 1769), son of
        • Edmund Rice (1653–1719), son of
        • Edward Rice (1622–1712), son of


  1. ^ a b c "A Nod to Ham Rice", Harvard Magazine, March 1999.
  2. ^ "Harvard Class of 1898 Report 2". Harvard University. 1907. Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr. Biographical Summary". Roots Web. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  4. ^ "U.S. Representatives from Massachusetts (1920s)". The Political Graveyard ( Retrieved 11 Oct 2009. 
  5. ^ "The 'Alberta' leaving New York for the Amazon River", Pan American Notes, Bulletin of the Pan American Union 43 (6), Dec 1916: 778 
  6. ^ a b "Attacked by Wild Indians". New York Times. May 1, 1920. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  7. ^ "Mrs. A. H. Rice Dies in a Paris Store – New York and Newport Society Woman, Wife of Explorer, Noted for Philanthropy – A Survivor of Titanic – Lost First Husband and Son in Disaster – Gave Library to Harvard University", New York Times, July 14, 1937 
  8. ^ "Explorers Kill Cannibals – Former Mrs. Widener Shares Perils in South America", New York Tribune, May 1, 1920: 7 
  9. ^ Plotkin, Mark J. (March–April 2013), "Alexander Hamilton Rice: Brief life of an Amazon explorer: 1875–1956", Harvard Magazine (Harvard University) 
  10. ^ Tenner, Edward. 1988. "Harvard, Bring Back Geography!" Harvard Magazine May–June 1988
  11. ^ "ALEXANDER RICE, EXPLORER, WAS 80", The New York Times, 24 July 1956
  12. ^ Councilman, William Thomas; Lambert, R.A., The medical report of the Rice expedition to Brazil, Harvard University Press, 1918
  13. ^ "'Tabloid' medicine chest used on Dr Hamilton Rice's Amazonian Expedition in 1919, England, 1900–1919", Science Museum, London
  14. ^ Kahn, Joseph P. (October 1, 2006). "Gilded Age opportunity: Ornate Newport mansion placed on the auction block". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  15. ^ Edmund Rice (1638) Association, 2011. Descendants of Edmund Rice: The First Nine Generations.
  16. ^ "John Rice (1751-1808)". Edmund Rice (1638) Association. Retrieved 28 Sep 2014.