Hiram Bingham III was born in Honolulu, on November 19, 1875, to Hiram Bingham II, an early Protestant missionary to the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
He was the grandson of Hiram Bingham I, who in 1820 was the leader of the Pioneer Company of missionaries to Hawaiʻi.
He attended Punahou School and ultimately earned degrees from Yale University, University of California-Berkeley and Harvard University.
In 1900 at the age of 25, Hiram III married Alfreda Mitchell, heiress of the Tiffany and Co fortune through her maternal grandfather Charles L Tiffany. With this financial stability he was able to focus on his future explorations.
He taught history and politics at Harvard and then was a lecturer and subsequently professor in South American history at Yale University.
In 1908, he served as delegate to the First Pan American Scientific Congress at Santiago, Chile. On his way home via Peru, a local prefect convinced him to visit the pre-Columbian city of Choquequirao.
Hiram III was not a trained archaeologist, but was thrilled by the prospect of unexplored cities. He returned to the Andes with the Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911.
“The first day out from Cuzco saw us in Urubamba, the capital of a province, a modern town charmingly located a few miles below Yucay, which was famous for being the most highly prized winter resort of the Cuzco Incas.”
“Its ancient fortress, perched on a rocky eminence that commands a magnificent view up and down the valley, is still one of the most attractive ancient monuments in America.”
Continuing on down the valley over a newly constructed government trail, we found ourselves in a wonderful cañon. So lofty are the peaks on either side that although the trail was frequently shadowed by dense tropical jungle, many of the mountains were capped with snow, and some of them had glaciers. There is no valley in South America that has such varied beauties and so many charms.” (Bingham; National Geographic)
“We camped a few rods away from the owner’s grass-thatched hut, and it was not long before he came to visit us and to inquire our business. He turned out to be an Indian rather better than the average, but overfond of ‘fire-water.’”
“His occupation consisted in selling grass and pasturage to passing travelers and in occasionally providing them with ardent spirits. He said that on top of the magnificent precipices nearby there were some ruins at a place called Machu Picchu”.
“He offered to show me the ruins, which he had once visited, if I would pay him well for his services. His idea of proper payment was 50 cents for his day’s labor. This did not seem unreasonable, although it was two and one-half times his usual day’s wage.” (Bingham; National Geographic)
On July 24, 1911, Hiram Bingham III rediscovered the ‘Lost City’ of Machu Picchu (which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley.)
“(W)e found ourselves in the midst of a tropical forest, beneath the shade of whose trees we could make out a maze of ancient walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of granite, some of which were beautifully fitted together in the most refined style of Inca architecture.”
“A few rods farther along we came to a little open space, on which were two splendid temples or palaces. The superior character of the stone work, the presence of these splendid edifices, and of what appeared to be an unusually large number of finely constructed stone dwellings, led me to believe that Machu Picchu might prove to be the largest and most important ruin discovered in South America since the days of the Spanish conquest.” (Bingham; National Geographic)
His book “Lost City of the Incas” became a bestseller upon its publication in 1948; he also wrote “Across South America” (an account of his journey from Buenos Aires to Lima, with notes on Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.)
After his return to the United States, he attained the rank of Captain in the Connecticut National Guard.
He eventually became an aviator and organized the United States Schools of Military Aeronautics to provide ground school training for aviation cadets, as well as commanded an aviator school in France.
Hiram III was elected governor of Connecticut in 1924; he was also a US Senator.
‘Lost City of the Incas’ and Hiram III have been noted as a source of inspiration for the story and ‘Indiana Jones’ character.
Hiram Bingham I (reportedly a basis for James Michener’s Abner Hale character in ‘Hawaii’) is my great-great-great grandfather and Hiram III is my great-great uncle.