When Thomas Jefferson managed to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, it accomplished a major goal of his: Control of New Orleans, and with it, the Mississippi River. The price was $15 million – the equivalent of nearly $340 million today. However, having bought the land, there was a need to see just what had been purchased for a huge sum of money.
Three expeditions were sent, out. The first of these expeditions (and the most famous) would be the one led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Jefferson commissioned them to map the newly purchased territory and explore the western half of the continent. In 1804, they departed from St. Charles Missouri on what would become a 28-month trek that would take them to the Pacific Ocean and back.
The now-famous Lewis and Clark Expedition was conducted as the Corps of Discovery, a special unit of the United States Army. The more than 40 specially selected members of the Corps, soldiers and some civilians not only found a route to the West Coast, they brought back immensely valuable scientific data, established trade relations with Native American tribes, and helped America assert a territorial claim in the Pacific Northwest.
The two leaders, though, would not receive immediate recognition for their journey. Interest began in the 20th century, after the 1904 Lewis and Clark Exposition. Lewis died of a gunshot wound in 1809 under mysterious circumstances, while Clark went on to a long political career, including service as governor of the Missouri Territory, and died in 1838.