Hiram Bingham III

Hiram Bingham III, Who Excavated the Lost City of Machu Picchu

Maybe he didn’t find any alien artifacts, but Hiram Bingham III did bring an ancient Incan city to public consciousness. Bingham wasn’t trained as an archaeologist, but was a professor of Latin American history when he traveled on an expedition to Peru sponsored by Yale University.

In 1911, while in the Urubamba Valley searching for the city of Vitcos, Bingham asked the locals about nearby ruins and Melchor Arteaga, a local farmer, led him to Machu Picchu, an Incan city little known to outsiders. He spent his next few expeditions studying the city, learning all he could about the ruins.

Bingham may not have been the first foreigner to reach Machu Picchu, but he introduced the city to the English-speaking world. He wrote about his experience in National Geographic and much later published a bestselling book, Lost City of the Incas.
Bingham didn’t pursue field archaeology after his final expedition to Machu Picchu, but he went on to have a very interesting life. He became an aviator, serving in the US Signal Corps and the Air Service, then went into politics. He was elected Governor of Connecticut, but only served for one day, because he had, in the same election, won a US Senate seat.


Bingham achieved the rank of captain of the Connecticut National Guard in 1916. In 1917, he became an aviator and organized the United States Schools of Military Aeronautics at eight universities to provide ground school training for aviation cadets. He served the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps and the Air Service, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. In Issoudun, France, Bingham commanded the Third Aviation Instruction Center, the Air Service's largest primary instruction and pursuit training school.[9] He became a supporter of the Air Service in their post-war quest for independence from the Army and supported that effort, in part, with the publication of his wartime experiences titled, An Explorer in the Air Service published in 1920 by Yale University Press.]

In 1922, Bingham was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, an office he held until 1924. In November 1924, he was elected Governor. On December 16, 1924, Bingham was also elected as a Republican to serve in the United States Senate to fill a vacancy created by the suicide of Frank Bosworth Brandegee. Bingham defeated noted educator Hamilton Holt by a handy margin. Now both Governor-elect and Senator-elect, Bingham served as Governor for one day, the shortest term of any Connecticut Governor.

Bingham was re-elected to a full six-year term in the Senate in 1926.

Senator Bingham was Chairman of the Committee on Printing and then Chairman of the Committee on Territories and Insular Possessions. President Calvin Coolidge appointed Bingham to the President's Aircraft Board during his first term in the Senate; the press quickly dubbed the ex-explorer "The Flying Senator".

Bingham failed in his second reelection effort in the wake of the 1932 Democratic landslide following the Great Depression and left the Senate at the end of his second term in 1933.

During World War II, Bingham lectured at several United States Navy training schools. In 1951, Bingham was appointed Chairman of the Civil Service Commission Loyalty Review Board, an assignment he kept through 1953.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee investigated an arrangement between Bingham, his clerk, and a lobbyist who agreed to pass information on to Bingham's office after executing a plan that was irregular, "even by the standards of his day." Bingham took his clerk off duty, and paid his salary to the lobbyist, thus allowing him to attend as a Senate staffer to closed meetings of the Finance Committee's deliberations on tariff legislation.

The initial ruling of the Judiciary Subcommittee was a condemnation of Bingham's scheme; but recommended no formal Senate action. Subsequently, Bingham decided to label the subcommittee's inquiry as a partisan witch hunt, provoking further Senate interest which eventually led to a resolution of censure that passed on November 4, 1929, by a vote of 54 to 22.


Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV (July 17, 1903 – January 12, 1988)  of Salen Connecticut was an American diplomat. He served as a Vice Consul in Marseilles, France, during World War II, and, along with Varian Fry, helped over 2,500 Jews to flee from France as Nazi forces advanced.

Bingham was one of seven sons of former Governor of Connecticut and US Senator Hiram Bingham III and his first wife, Alfreda Mitchell, heiress of the Tiffany and Co. fortune through her maternal grandfather Charles L. Tiffany.

Bingham attended the Groton School and graduated from Yale University in 1925.[3]

Bingham served in Kobe, Japan, as a civilian secretary in the United States Embassy. He worked part-time as a schoolteacher. He traveled to India and Egypt before returning to the United States to attend Harvard University. After obtaining his law degree, he scored third in his class on the foreign service exam.

Bingham's first assignment in the United States Foreign Service was in Beijing, China. There, he witnessed the beginnings of the communist revolution. His travels through Asia piqued Bingham's interest in eastern religious philosophy. He spent the rest of his life trying to reconcile eastern religious philosophies with that of the Christian traditions his family historically had been known to preach.

Bingham also served in Warsaw, Poland, sharing a flat with another diplomat, Charles W. Yost, whose daughter, Felicity, became Bingham's god-daughter. In 1934, Bingham served as third secretary to the United States Embassy in London.

In 1939, Bingham was posted to the US Consulate in Marseilles, where he had responsibility for issuing entry visas to the USA.

On May 10, 1940, Adolf Hitler's forces invaded France and the French government fell. The French signed an armistice with Germany and forced most of France's large population of foreign refugees to move to internment camps. Many thousands of refugees went to Marseilles to seek visas for the USA and other foreign destinations.

Anxious to limit immigration into the United States and to maintain good relations with the Vichy government, the U.S. State Department actively discouraged diplomats from helping refugees. In Marseilles, as elsewhere, foreign service staff usually showed little flexibility or compassion towards the desperate refugees.

However, American rescue workers soon noticed that "Harry" Bingham was an exception. Bingham personally toured some of the wretched internment camps and sought American aid to improve conditions. He helped many refugees to avoid internment and prepare for emigration and freely issued Nansen passports, a useful form of identity for stateless persons.

An American rescue worker, Martha Sharp, organized a group of children to leave southern France for the US in late 1940. She had this to say about Bingham, “I am proud that our government is represented in its Foreign Services by a man of your quality,” she wrote. “I feel so deeply about this that I shall take the earliest opportunity to transmit it through the Unitarian Service Committee to the United States State Department, for I believe that such humane and cooperative handling of individuals is what we need most coupled with intelligence and good breeding."

 Bingham also cooperated a great deal with Varian Fry, the most effective rescue worker based in Vichy France during the early years of the war. Bingham worked with Fry on notable cases, including the emigration of Marc Chagall, political theorist Hannah Arendt, novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, and many other distinguished refugees. In the case of Feuchtwanger, Bingham went so far as to help spirit the novelist out of an internment camp and sheltered him in his own house while plans were made to help the refugee walk over the Pyrenees

In 1941, the United States government abruptly pulled Bingham from his position as Vice Consul and transferred him to Portugal and then Argentina. When he was in Argentina, he helped to track Nazi war criminals in South America. In 1945, after being passed over for promotion, he resigned from the United States Foreign Service.

Bingham did not speak much about his wartime activities. His own family had little knowledge of them until after Bingham's death in 1988. In 1991, Bingham's widow Rose and son Thomas found 50-year old Marseilles documents in the Connecticut farmhouse which they donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Several years later, Bingham's youngest son found documents in a cupboard behind a chimney and family members continued to unearth documents at the farmhouse. The materials told of Bingham's struggle to save German and Jewish refugees from death, details long hidden from the public.
While posted in London, he met Rose Lawton Morrison (1908-1996), a college drama teacher from Waycross, Georgia, whom he escorted to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. They later married and had 11 children: Hiram Bingham, Thomas Bingham, David Bingham, John Bingham, Robert Kim Bingham, Benjamin Bingham, William Bingham, R. Tiffany Bingham, Cecilia Bingham Hanson, Abigail Bingham Endicott (mother of Sam Endicott), and Margaret Bingham Turner.

Although family members knew some of the details, the whole story only became known when his youngest son William discovered a tightly wrapped bundle of letters, documents, and photographs hidden in the wall of a cupboard behind a chimney in the family home. That bundle disclosed Hiram Bingham's carefully guarded past. As a consequence of the discovery, Hiram Bingham IV has been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations, the State of Israel, and by a traveling exhibit entitled "Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats". The exhibit records the events of that time and the efforts of Bingham and others who risked and lost so much to help their fellow man.

After considering Bingham's deeds during the war years in Marseilles for a number years, Israel's memorial Yad Vashem ("Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority") issued the Bingham family a letter of appreciation on March 7, 2005. Although not a Righteous Among the Nations designation, the letter noted the "humanitarian disposition" of Bingham IV "at a time of persecution of Jews by the Vichy regime in France.... [in] contrast to certain other officials who rather acted suspiciously toward Jewish refugees wishing to enter the United States."

On June 27, 2002, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a posthumous "Constructive Dissent" award to Bingham's children at an American Foreign Service Officers Association awards ceremony in Washington, DC. Since December 1998 his son Robert Kim Bingham, Sr. had lobbied the US Postal Service to issue a stamp depicting his father in recognition of his humanitarian deeds. After the proposal received wide bipartisan support in Congress, a commemorative stamp portraying Hiram Bingham IV as a "Distinguished American Diplomat" was issued on May 30, 2006

On October 27, 2006, the Anti-Defamation League posthumously presented Bingham its "Courage to Care" award at the ADL’s national conference in Atlanta. In November 2006, the U.S. Episcopal Church added Bingham to a list of "American Saints" published in the book A Year with American Saints with a summary of his life and character.

On March 28, 2011, the Simon Wiesenthal Center posthumously awarded Bingham their Medal of Valor in New York City with a film tribute. The film shows the Nazis on the march in Europe and how US Vice-Consul Bingham rose to the dangerous occasion to save lives. According to The Wall Street Journal, "more than 450 supporters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center gathered for the 2011 Humanitarian Award Dinner. 

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