Famous American Explorers

Had it not been for Christopher Columbus would America exist today, leave alone be the address of several renowned explorers and discoverers? Vasco da Gama, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Chaplain are some of the legendary explorers that the world takes pride in. It is to these noble souls that we owe the world today. For what would the world be without their indomitable attitude, never-say-die spirit and outrageously daring spirit? Explorers helped expand the border of the world by conquering new lands. What’s more, they added new cultures, traditions and heritage thus expanding the cultural legacy of the world. Through their voyages, they discovered the unknown. While it may look all fancy and extravagant, explorers go through a lot, while some survive the harsh conditions some give their life to it. Just like every other country in the world, America too has had pioneering explorers who expanded the horizon and undertook many expeditions. Some of them include Kit Carson, Robert Edwin Peary, John Wesley Powell, Meriwether Lewis, Daniel Boone and Sacagawea. Learn in details about the life and explorations of American explorers.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 
Nellie Bly
(Journalist)

Nellie Bly
6
Birthdate: May 5, 1864
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cochrans Mills, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: January 27, 1922

Nellie Bly was an American industrialist, journalist, inventor, and charity worker. She is remembered for her circumnavigation of the world in 72 days. She is also known for pioneering a new kind of investigative journalism as she worked undercover from within a mental institution to report on the institution. Nellie Bly’s life and work have inspired several works of art.

 2 
Sacagawea
(Interpreter)

Sacagawea
11
Birthdate: 1788 AD
Birthplace: Salmon
Died: 1812 AD
Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone woman, became a significant part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, helping its members connect with the Native Americans along the trail. The National American Woman Suffrage Association later honored her by erecting several statues in her memory. She finds mention in many books and films.

 3 
Daniel Boone
(Explorer)

Daniel Boone
12
Birthdate: November 2, 1734
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Pennsylvania, United States
Died: September 26, 1820

Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, woodsman, explorer, and frontiersman. His exploits as an American frontier made him one of the earliest folk heroes of the US. Widely regarded as the founder of Kentucky, Daniel Boone is popular for his exploration and settlement of Kentucky. His life and work have inspired several movies, such as the 1936 movie Daniel Boone.

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 4 
Hugh Glass
(Hunter)

Hugh Glass
9
Birthdate: 1783 AD
Birthplace: Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: 1833 AD

Fur-trader and explorer Hugh Glass is part of local folklore now. After being left battered by a grizzly bear on the legendary 1823 expedition of General Ashley that was supposed to explore parts of Missouri, Glass was left to die by his teammates, but ended up surviving by treating his own wounds.

 5 
Chris McCandless
(American adventurer)

Chris McCandless
12
Birthdate: February 12, 1968
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: El Segundo, California, United States
Died: August 18, 1992

Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.

 6 
Kit Carson
(Explorer & Soldier)

Kit Carson
4
Birthdate: December 24, 1809
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Madison County
Died: May 23, 1868

A frontiersman and a fur-trapper, Kit Carson played a major role in the US’s westward expansion. Mostly known for guiding explorer John C. Frémont, he was criticized for his contribution to the displacement of native Americans as an Indian agent. He became part of folk legend for his exploits as a fighter, too.

 7 
Jim Bridger
(Mountaineer)

Jim Bridger
4
Birthdate: March 17, 1804
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia, US
Died: July 17, 1881

Known as the ultimate American mountain man, Jim Bridger is remembered for his exploration of the Western United States. It is believed, the illiterate fur trader was the first white man to explore the Great Salt Lake and one of the first to visit Yellowstone. He also worked as a forest guide.

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 8 
Jon Krakauer
(Journalist, Explorer, Writer)

Jon Krakauer
4
Birthdate: April 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts, United States

Best known for his bestselling novels such as Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer is not just an author who writes about the outdoors but is also a mountaineer himself. He was part of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which witnessed 4 of the team members dying in a storm.

 9 

Henry Morton Stanley
5
Birthdate: January 28, 1841
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Denbigh, Wales
Died: May 10, 1904

Henry Morton Stanley was a Welsh-American explorer, journalist, colonial administrator, soldier, politician, and author. He is remembered for his exploration of central Africa and his search for the source of the River Nile. Stanley received an honorary title of knighthood in 1899. His life and career inspired the 1939 movie Stanley and Livingstone, where Stanley was played by Spencer Tracy.

 10 
Richard E. Byrd
(Naval officer)

Richard E. Byrd
4
Birthdate: October 25, 1888
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Winchester, Virginia, United States
Died: March 11, 1957

American naval officer Richard E. Byrd is remembered for his pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, using airplanes. Though he was awarded a US Congressional Medal of Honor for completing the first flight over the North Pole, it was later revealed that he had returned when he was 150 miles away from the destination.

 11 
Meriwether Lewis
(Explorer, Politician)

Meriwether Lewis
7
Birthdate: August 18, 1774
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Ivy, Colony of Virginia
Died: October 11, 1809

Best known for his exploration of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon, Meriwether Lewis led the legendary Lewis and Clark Expedition. He had also been the governor of Louisiana. His mysterious death at age 35, due to gunshot wounds, sparked a huge debate on whether it was a murder or a suicide.

 12 
Robert Peary
(Explorer)

Robert Peary
4
Birthdate: May 6, 1856
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cresson, Pennsylvania
Died: February 20, 1920

US naval officer Robert Peary is credited with discovering the North Pole, with explorer Matthew Henson as his attendant, though he was challenged by Frederick A. Cook, who claimed to have achieved the feat independently before him. Later, diary entries revealed Peary may have been 100km short of the pole.

 13 
Josh Gates
(Television presenter)

Josh Gates
5
Birthdate: August 10, 1977
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, United States

Josh Gates is an American television producer and presenter who specializes in hosting and executive producing paranormal reality television series like Destination Truth, Ghost Hunters, and Stranded. Josh Gates also has his own production company named Ping Pong Productions which he uses to produce such television shows as Ghost Nation. 

 14 

Michael Rockefeller
6
Birthdate: May 18, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, United States
Died: November 19, 1961

The youngest child of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michael Rockefeller shunned his family’s legacy and decided to become an explorer. He went missing while on an expedition to the Asmat region of southwestern Dutch New Guinea and was declared dead 3 years later, raising speculations of cannibalism.

 15 
William Clark
(Explorer)

William Clark
6
Birthdate: August 1, 1770
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Caroline County
Died: September 1, 1838

Frontiersman William Clark is remembered for his iconic expedition to the Pacific Northwest along with Meriwether Lewis, in what is known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He had also been a US Army soldier and the governor of Missouri Territory. He named his first-born after Lewis.

 16 
Matthew Henson
(Explorer)

Matthew Henson
3
Birthdate: August 8, 1866
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Nanjemoy, Maryland, United States
Died: March 9, 1955

Orphaned, Matthew Henson began his journey as a cabin boy at age 12 and was later hired by Robert E. Peary as an attendant for his expeditions. He, along with Peary and 4 Inuit, were the first men to set foot on North Pole. The African-American explorer later won a Congressional Medal.

 17 
John C. Frémont
(Former Governor of California)

John C. Frémont
4
Birthdate: January 21, 1813
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Savannah, Georgia, United States
Died: July 13, 1890

John C. Frémont is best remembered for his role in the expansion of US settlements in the West and also for the development of what is now known as California. A military officer, he became one of the first senators from California and had also been the 5th governor of Arizona.

 18 
Steve Fossett
(Businessman)

Steve Fossett
5
Birthdate: April 22, 1944
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Jackson, Tennessee, United States
Died: September 3, 2007

Apart from being the first solo balloonist to circumnavigate the world, Steve Fossett also competed the first non-stop solo flight across the world. The adventurer also owned a securities company. His plane went missing on a 2007 mission in western Nevada, and he was declared dead on the discovery of the wreckage.

 19 
Zebulon Pike
(Explorer, Military personnel)

Zebulon Pike
3
Birthdate: January 5, 1779
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lamberton, New Jersey
Died: April 27, 1813

American army officer Zebulon Pike is best remembered for his exploration of areas around the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. While traversing through the southern Colorado region, he was detained by Spanish colonial authorities. He lent his name to the famed Pikes Peak in Colorado.

 20 
Scott Fischer
(First American to Summit Mt. Lhotse)

Scott Fischer
4
Birthdate: December 24, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Muskegon, Michigan, United States
Died: May 11, 1996

American mountaineer Scott Fischer was known for scaling the highest peaks of the world, including Mt. Everest and K2, without using oxygen cans. He later became a mountain guide and co-launched his own adventure travel company Mountain Madness. He died in a blizzard while guiding a group of clients to Mt. Everest.

 21 
Sylvia Earle
(Marine biologist)

Sylvia Earle
15
Birthdate: August 30, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Gibbstown, New Jersey, U.S.
Sylvia Earle is known for her research on marine algae and she was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earle held the world record for the deepest untethered dive and was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet, in 1998. She also featured in Netflix Original documentary Seaspiracy.

 22 
Floyd Collins
(Explorer)

Floyd Collins
3
Birthdate: July 20, 1887
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Kentucky
Died: February 13, 1925

Cave explorer Floyd Collins is remembered for an ill-fated solo cave exploration in Kentucky, when he lost his balance and got stuck in a tight tunnel. His rescue attempt was widely covered by the media, but the tunnel collapsed and he died eventually. His body was recovered after 2 months.

 23 
John Wesley Powell
(Explorer, Geologist)

John Wesley Powell
3
Birthdate: March 24, 1834
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Mount Morris
Died: September 23, 1902

John Wesley Powell was a geologist and explorer of the American West. He undertook a series of adventures as a young man and later joined the military. He is best known for the three-month-long geographic expedition he undertook down the Green and Colorado rivers. He was made the director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1881.  

 24 

Matthew Fontaine Maury
3
Birthdate: January 14, 1806
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Spotsylvania County, Virginia, United States
Died: February 1, 1873

American astronomer, naval officer, oceanographer and author Matthew Fontaine Maury, who first served the United States Navy and then the Confederacy States Navy, made significant contributions in oceanography. His book Physical Geography of the Sea is counted among the first comprehensive books on oceanography. Navies and merchant marines across the world adopted his uniform system of recording oceanographic data.

 25 
Daniel Fredinburg
(Google executive)

Daniel Fredinburg
4
Birthdate: September 8, 1981
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Mission Viejo, California, United States
Died: April 25, 2015

Daniel Fredinburg was an American climate activist, Google executive, explorer, inventor, and entrepreneur. He was credited with co-inventing over 12 software technologies that were recognized and patented by Google. Daniel Fredinburg also served as the head of privacy at Google X before his untimely and tragic death caused by head injuries during an avalanche, at the age of 33.

 26 
Jim Beckwourth
(Explorer)

Jim Beckwourth
3
Birthdate: April 6, 1798
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Frederick County, Virginia, United States
Died: October 29, 1866

Born to a white man and a mulatto slave woman, Jim Beckwourth was practically born into slavery. While he looked like an American Indian, he was known as a “free Negro” after being released. Known as Bloody Arm, he is credited with exploring the Beckwourth Pass.

 27 
Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
(Environmental Advocate)

Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
4
Birthdate: January 20, 1980
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Santa Monica, California, U.S.

Known for the documentary Ocean's Deadliest, which he co-hosted with Steve Irwin, oceanographer Philippe Cousteau Jr. also earned an Emmy nomination for his work in Awesome Planet. The grandson of naval officer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Philippe had lost his father, sailor and filmmaker Philippe Cousteau, 6 months before his birth.

 28 
Frederick Russell Burnham
(Explorer, Writer)

Frederick Russell Burnham
3
Birthdate: May 11, 1861
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Blue Earth County
Died: September 1, 1947

American scout and adventurer Frederick Russell Burnham had served the British Army in colonial Africa. He had started his career as a teenager, assisting the US Army in the Apache and Cheyenne Wars, as a tracker. He apparently also taught woodcarving to Robert Baden-Powell the founder of modern scouting.

 29 
Frederick Cook
(Explorer)

Frederick Cook
3
Birthdate: June 10, 1865
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hortonville, New York, United States
Died: August 5, 1940

Apart from being a qualified physician, Frederick Cook was also a passionate explorer. He was initially the surgeon on explorer Robert E. Peary’s team. He later created controversy by conflicting with Peary, saying it was him and not Peary who had first explored the North Pole, though his claims were denounced.

 30 
Thomas Moran
(Explorer, Painter)

Thomas Moran
3
Birthdate: February 12, 1837
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Bolton
Died: August 25, 1926

Landscape painter Thomas Moran is best known for his paintings that depicted the Rocky Mountains. After being part of a government surveying expedition to the then-uncharted Yellowstone area, he documented the woods and thus motivated the authorities to establish the US’s first national park in the area.

 31 
John Colter
(Military Person)

John Colter
3
Birthdate: 1774 AD
Birthplace: Stuarts Draft, Virginia, United States
Died: November 22, 1813

Trapper-explorer John Colter, who was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is remembered as the first white man to visit and describe the Yellowstone National Park. He had a brush with death on three occasions, when he came face-to-face with Indian tribes. He later settled in a Missouri farm.

 32 

Roy Chapman Andrews
3
Birthdate: January 26, 1884
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States
Died: March 11, 1960

Roy Chapman Andrews was an American adventurer, explorer, and naturalist. He is best remembered for his association with the American Museum of Natural History where he also served as the director. Andrews is credited with bringing to the museum the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. His life and career are said to have inspired George Lucas' famous character, Indiana Jones.

 33 
Ann Bancroft
(Author)

Ann Bancroft
3
Birthdate: September 29, 1955
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Mendota Heights, Minnesota, United States

Ann Bancroft grew up with a learning disability but later became a physical education teacher. She eventually quit her job and scripted history by becoming the first woman to reach the North Pole. She also led the first women’s group that reached the South Pole on skis.

 34 
William Henry Jackson
(Painter, Photographer, Explorer, Artist, Mountaineer)

William Henry Jackson
3
Birthdate: April 4, 1843
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Keeseville
Died: June 30, 1942

 35 
Charles Wilkes
(Naval Officer)

Charles Wilkes
3
Birthdate: April 3, 1798
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 8, 1877

 36 
William Beebe
(Ornithologist)

William Beebe
2
Birthdate: July 29, 1877
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York, United States
Died: June 4, 1962

 37 
Clarence King
(Clarence Rivers King)

Clarence King
2
Birthdate: January 6, 1842
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Died: December 24, 1901

 38 
William Bartram
(First Naturalist Who Penetrated the Dense Tropical Forests of Florida)

William Bartram
2
Birthdate: April 20, 1739
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 22, 1823

 39 
Mike Fink
(Frontiersman)

Mike Fink
3
Birthdate: 1770 AD
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: 1823 AD

 40 
Osa Johnson
(Filmmaker)

Osa Johnson
2
Birthdate: March 14, 1894
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Chanute, Kansas, United States
Died: January 7, 1953

 41 
Adolphus Greely
(Army Officer)

Adolphus Greely
2
Birthdate: March 27, 1844
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Newburyport, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 20, 1935

 42 
Robert Gray
(Explorer)

Robert Gray
3
Birthdate: May 10, 1755
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Tiverton, Rhode Island, United States
Died: June 30, 1806

 43 
David Fairchild
(Botanist)

David Fairchild
2
Birthdate: April 7, 1869
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Lansing, Michigan, United States
Died: August 6, 1954

 44 
Lee Rogers Berger
(Paleoanthropologist)

Lee Rogers Berger
2
Birthdate: December 22, 1965
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Shawnee Mission, Kansas, United States

 45 
John Bartram
(Botanist)

John Bartram
2
Birthdate: March 23, 1699
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Darby, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: September 22, 1777

 46 

Charles Francis Hall
2
Birthdate: 1821 AD
Birthplace: Rochester, New Hampshire, United States
Died: November 8, 1871

 47 
Paul Sereno
(Professor)

Paul Sereno
3
Birthdate: October 11, 1957
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Aurora, Illinois, United States

Paul Sereno is an American professor of paleontology who works at the University of Chicago. Sereno also serves as an explorer-in-residence for National Geographic and is credited with discovering many new dinosaur species, including an almost complete specimen of SuperCroc. Over the years, Paul Sereno and his discoveries have been featured in several documentaries. 

 48 

Lincoln Ellsworth
2
Birthdate: May 12, 1880
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: May 26, 1951

 49 

Christopher Gist
2
Birthdate: 1706 AD
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: 1759 AD

 50 
Frank Piasecki
(Engineer)

Frank Piasecki
1
Birthdate: October 24, 1919
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: February 11, 2008

Aeronautical engineer Frank Piasecki was the first American to get a helicopter pilot’s license. Remembered as the pioneer of the tandem rotor design of helicopters, also known as the Flying Banana model. The National Medal of Technology winner had also designed the first helicopter for the American navy.