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John Wilson Danenhower

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Title: John Wilson Danenhower  
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Subject: In the Kingdom of Ice, Jeannette Medal, Explorers who committed suicide, People from Annapolis, Maryland, USS O-12 (SS-73)
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John Wilson Danenhower

John Wilson Danenhower
Lt. John W. Danenhower
Born (1849-09-30)September 30, 1849
Chicago, Illinois
Died April 20, 1887(1887-04-20) (aged 37)
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1870–1887
Rank Lieutenant
Commands held USS Constellation

John Wilson Danenhower (September 30, 1849 – April 20, 1887) was a United States Navy officer and explorer.


Born in Chicago, Illinois, Danenhower attended local public schools, then accepted appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1866. After his 1870 graduation he served in the European Squadron aboard both the Plymouth and the Juniata.

Following this he was assigned to the Portsmouth surveying party in the North Pacific. In 1875 he was assigned to the U.S. Naval Observatory where he attained the rank of master and then lieutenant in 1879. A year prior to this he was committed to an asylum for two months for signs of an unbalanced mind, but sufficiently recovered to return to active duty aboard Vandalia in the Mediterranean Sea, attached to General Ulysses S. Grant's cruise.

From Le Havre, France, just prior to sailing on to the Mare Island Navy Yard, near San Francisco. Here the ship was prepared and provisioned for the Arctic by Danenhower and Lieutenant Charles W. Chipp. The ship set sail for the Bering Strait on July 8, 1879. En route, Captain DeLong, in a letter to his wife, Emma, praised Danenhower's work ethics.

Danenhower began a school of navigation for the crew while the Jeannette was wedged in an ice pack. Unfortunately, he was ineffective to the expedition and rendered unfit for duty on December 22, 1879 due to a months-long and ever increasingly treatment-resistant eye inflammation caused by syphilis.

Then on June 12, 1881, the ship was crushed by ice. The team was forced to drag their boats and provisions over the ice towards the Asian coastline. Danenhower, with one eye bandaged and one covered by a dark goggle, complained often about not being allowed to take command of a group of men or lead a task, seemingly oblivious to his incapacitation. Delong was ultimately forced to order him to ride in a sledge due to his failing eyesight and frequent stumbles into crevasses.

They finally found open water and set a course for the midshipman training at Annapolis, Maryland. His health problems centered around his failing eyesight. He assumed command of the USS Constellation on April 11, 1887 at Norfolk, Virginia, but upon the ship's grounding while leaving Hampton Roads harbor, he returned to the academy, disturbed. There, on April 20, 1887, brooding over this incident, he committed suicide.

He was survived by his wife, Helen Sloan Danenhower and two children, Lt. Commander Sloan Wilson, commander of the arctic exploration submarine Nautilus, and Ruth Danenhower Wilson, an author. Ruth's son, Sloan Wilson, wrote The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. John Wilson Danenhower was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oswego County, NY.


  • Guttridge, Leonard. Icebound: The Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole Annapolis, Md., Naval Institute Press, 1986, ISBN 0-87021-330-X.
  • Johnson, Allen & Malone, Dumas (ed.'s). Dictionary of American Biography. vol. III. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, N.Y. 1959.
  • Lieutenant John W. Danenhower, at Naval Historical Center.
  • Sides, Hampton. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette Doubleday, 2014, ISBN 978-0385535373.
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