Time magazine perhaps offers the most succinct take on the impact of the Lewis and Clark Expedition:
When they launched their wooden boats up the Missouri and into the wilderness, Lewis and Clark were charting the future of America.
In charting the future of America, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent 28 months traversing close to 8,000 miles and 11 present-day states.
President Thomas Jefferson authorized the Corps of Discovery journey in 1803—a mere 37 years after the birth of the nation—and chose Lewis, his personal secretary, as its commander; Lewis tapped Clark, a fellow Army officer, as its co-leader. Their epic quest to find a water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and to explore the West started May 14, 1804, in Wood River, Ill., and ended Sept. 23, 1806, in St. Louis, Mo. At the outset of their expedition, Lewis was 30 years old and Clark was 34.
Upon the conclusion of their trek, “the men of the expedition were welcomed as heroes,” according to an article by Al Bredenberg. “They had been gone so long that the nation feared they were dead.”
During their travels, Clark mapped their route and Lewis recorded information about and collected samples of the unfamiliar plants and animals they encountered. The explorers, who were accompanied by Indians and fellow Americans, met with the tribes of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase to tell them of the impending changes under the territory’s U.S. ownership. Lewis and Clark also sought to broker peace between tribes.
Throughout their trip, Lewis and Clark may have battled the elements but never battled each other.
“Their relationship ranks high in the realm of notable human associations. It was a rare example of two men of noble heart and conscience sharing responsibilities for the conduct of a dangerous enterprise without ever losing each other’s respect or loyalty,” according to LewisandClark.net.
“Despite frequent stress, hardships, and other conditions that could easily have bred jealousy, mistrust or contempt, they proved to be self-effacing brothers in command and leadership. During their long journey, there is not a single trace of a serious quarrel or dispute between them.”
In the more than 200 years since the expedition, the adventures of Lewis and Clark have become the stuff of legend. Colleges, libraries and trails bear their names. Scores of books have been written about them. Television and radio productions have documented their accomplishments.
“The history of the expedition has lured hundreds of thousands of Americans to significant sites along the Corps of Discovery’s trail, and to books and events digging into every element of the expedition,” according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Many [people] have become academic and armchair experts on the subject.”
Sources: PBS, Lewisandclark.net, Library of Congress, University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting, National Park Service, Missouri Historical Society, National Scenic Byways Program, Time magazine, Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, National Geographic Society, EdGate.com