Hiram Bingham III’s life and career can be spilt fairly into four phases. First he was an explorer/archaeologist, scholar, military man, and politician. He was born in 1875 on the island of Hawaii. He was the son Hiram Bingham 11 who was a Protestant missionary to the Kingdom of Hawaii before it was annexed to the United States of America. His grandfather Hiram Bingham 1 who was also a missionary.
C. Miller in his book The Word Creeps In (1981) paints a pretty grim portrait of the family home environment. His parent were, by the time he was ten were in their fifties. They are described a white haired and semi-invalids who were during his childhood bedridden for long periods. They were also “pre-occupied with death.” They are also painted as people who despised wealth and counselled their son along these lines. There is little doubt the parents wished their son to follow in the steps of his father and grandfather and enter the world of missionaries. Hiram Bingham III seems to have developed an independent spirit no doubt influenced by the fact that he was educated lastly on the mainland without parental “hands on guidance” .In fact he ran away from home at least once. Oddly against the background of the foregoing the publication History Today July 2011 in an article on Hiram Bingham III records that his father had taught him mountaineering which was to stand him in good stead during his future exploration of South American jungles.
Hiram Bingham III educated at Punahou school and Oahu college in Hawaii from 1882 to 1892. However his education was completed at Phillips Academy Andover, Massachusetts many thousands of mile away and he graduated in 1894.
He married Alfreda Mitchell in 1899. She was an heiress to a jewellery fortune and his parents strongly disapproved. However the couple went on to have seven sons who excelled in their own careers in very different paths and in their own right.
During his spell as a lecturer and subsequently a professor at Yale University that he was to become famous for discovering the forgotten Inca city of Macha Piccau in 1911. The work of the explorer was hard and he had to scramble through jungles and avoid precipices in his quest for the forgotten city. He was to return to South America on a number of occasions in his role as an explorer. However, his discovery of Macha Piccau remains his most outstanding achievement in the world of exploration. It was once an estate of a royal Incan Emperor. It was hidden and partially buried until he was able to re-introduce it to the world. He records in his own writings how moved he was at the beauty surroundings in the place of his re-discovery. Yet in the History Today article it indicates he was not well respected by scholars. This may be due to the fact that he had no real qualifications in archaeology or it may be down to professional jealousy or even snobbery. It is true to say he wrongly claimed to have discovered another Incan city Vilcabamba but he was wrong. However, it would seem a genuine mistake on his part rather than a false claim.
Hiram Bignham III on the advent of World War 1 served in the military and rose to be a captain in the Connecticut National Guard. He then became an aviator and organised the United States School of Military Aeronomics in the United States Signal Corps attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He also commanded a flying school in France.
His entry into the world of politics began in 1922 when he became a Lieutenant Governor in Connecticut and in 1924 he became a United States senator. He was appointed by the United States President Calvin Coolidge to the President’s Aircraft Board. He earned the nickname “The Flying Senator”. He was re-elected for a full six years in 1926 and served on important committees such as The Committee on Territories and Insular Possessions as well as the Committee of printing. He was however, censored by the senate in 1929 for having a lobbyist on his payroll. He was to lose his seat in 1932 following a landslide election victory for the Democratic Party.
In the year 1937 Hiram Bingham III divorced his wife and according to the article in History Today it was because his wife “could no longer stand his persistent infidelity”. In the same year he married Suzanne Carroll Hill.
However he was by no means finished with public duties and lectured at a number of United States Navy training schools during World 11 and served as Chairman of the Civil Service Commission Loyalty Review Board as recently as 1951.
During his life he published five books and a number of books mostly regarding his passion for the Incas and a number of books were, in turn, written about him. He has had a moon crater named after him as well as a street in Peru. He was responsible for bringing many artefacts back to the United States from his many travels. So in his life time he achieved many and varied accomplishments. He died in 1956