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John Wilson Danenhower
Lt. John W. Danenhower
Born (1849-09-30)September 30, 1849
Died April 20, 1887(1887-04-20) (aged 37)
Place of birth Chicago, Illinois
Place of death United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1870–1887
Rank Lieutenant
Commands held USS Constellation

John Wilson Danenhower (September 30, 1849 – April 20, 1887) was a United States Navy officer and explorer.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Danenhower attended local public schools, then accepted appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1866. After his 1870 graduation he served in the European Squadron aboard both the Plymouth and the Juniata.

Following this he was assigned to the Portsmouth surveying party in the North Pacific. In 1875 he was assigned to the U.S. Naval Observatory where he attained the rank of master and then lieutenant in 1879. A year prior to this he was committed to an asylum for two months for signs of an unbalanced mind, but sufficiently recovered to return to active duty aboard Vandalia in the Mediterranean Sea, attached to General Ulysses S. Grant's cruise.

From Smyrna his petitioned services in the U.S.S. Jeannette Arctic expedition were accepted and he soon joined Captain George W. DeLong at Le Havre, France, just prior to sailing on to the Mare Island Navy Yard, near San Francisco. Here the ship was prepared and provisioned for the Arctic by Danenhower and Lieutenant Charles W. Chipp. The ship set sail for the Bering Strait on July 8, 1879. En route, Captain DeLong, in a letter to his wife, Emma, praised Danenhower's work ethics.

Danenhower began a school of navigation for the crew while the Jeannette was wedged in an ice pack. Unfortunately, though brave, he was ineffective to the expedition and rendered unfit for duty on December 22, 1879 due to a months-long and ever increasingly treatment-resistant eye inflammation.

Then on June 12, 1881, the ship was crushed by ice. The team was forced to drag their boats and provisions over the ice towards the Asian coastline. Danenhower, with one eye bandaged and one covered by a dark goggle, kept pace. They finally found open water and set a course for the Lena River delta of Russia in three separate boats which became separated by gale winds on September 12, 1881. Danenhower's boat, under command of Engineer George W. Melville, reached the eastern Lena River Delta five days later. The crew was rescued by friendly natives. Danenhower set sail for the United States and arrived on May 28, 1882. His published book, Lieutenant Danenhower's Narrative of the Jeannette, graphically described his experiences.

For a few years, in ill health, he served as the assistant commander for midshipman training at Annapolis, Maryland. His health problems centered around his failing eyesight. He assumed command of the USS Constellation on April 11, 1887 at Norfolk, Virginia, but upon the ship's grounding while leaving Hampton Roads harbor, he returned to the academy, disturbed. There on April 20, 1887, brooding over this incident, he committed suicide. He was survived by his wife, Helen Sloan Danenhower and two children, Lt. Commander Sloan Wilson, commander of the Nautilus, and Ruth Danenhower Wilson, an author. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oswego County, NY.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Guttridge, Leonard. Icebound: The Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole Annapolis, Md., Naval Institute Press, 1986, ISBN 0-87021-330-X.
  • Johnson, Allen & Malone, Dumas (ed.'s). Dictionary of American Biography. vol. III. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, N.Y. 1959.
  • Lieutenant John W. Danenhower, at Naval Historical Center.

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