The Private Funding Model in History

In the 1920s and 1930s, enterprising individuals such as Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History and Admiral Richard E. Byrd raised funds in the private sector to mount expeditions to remote locations. Each recruited a multidisciplinary team of researchers and brought them to a distant wilderness they would not otherwise have been able to reach. Andrews led expeditions to the Gobi Desert in search of the fossilized remains of ancient life. Byrd directed surveys of hundreds of thousands of square miles of the Arctic and Antarctic that had previously been unknown and uncharted.

The Byrd expeditions were not sponsored by the Navy. Like the Central Asiatic Expeditions of the American Museum of Natural History, they were entirely supported by private contributions. Other explorers in this period who raised funds in the private sector to mount multidisciplinary expeditions include William Beebe of the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), Donald B. MacMillan, Robert A. Bartlett, and George Palmer Putnam. Private, multidisciplinary expeditions successfully contributed to the most compelling scientific and technical inquiries of their day. They also afforded qualified researchers an opportunity to interact and collaborate. Today, scientists depend on government grants to subsidize their field work. The result is that the geologist, physicist, and biologist who, in an earlier era, might have been members of the same expedition, are now forced to compete with each other for the scarce research dollar.

The purpose of Wilderness Research Foundation is to create a new mechanism within the private sector to further modern scientific exploration—in other words, to do as an organization what Roy Chapman Andrews and Richard Byrd did as individuals.