Hiram Bingham III (November 19, 1875 - June 6, 1956) was an American academic, explorer and politician. He made public the existence of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911 with the guidance of local indigenous farmers. Later, Bingham served as a member of the United States Senate for the state of Connecticut.
Bingham was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Clara Brewster and Hiram Bingham II (1831-1908), an early Protestant missionary to the Kingdom of Hawai'i, the grandson of Hiram Bingham I (1789-1869), another missionary. He attended O'ahu College, now known as Punahou School in Hawai'i from 1882 to 1892. He went to the United States in his teens in order to complete his education, entering Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1894.
He earned a B.A. degree from Yale University in 1898, a degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1900, where he took one of the first courses on Latin American history offered in the United States, and Ph. D. from Harvard University in 1905. Since Harvard at the time did not have a specialist in Latin American history, Edward Gaylord Bourne of Yale served as the examiner for Bingham's qualifying exams.
While at Yale, Bingham was a member of Acacia Fraternity. He taught history and politics at Harvard and then served as preceptor under Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University. Princeton "did not much favor Latin American history," so that in 1907, when Yale University sought a replacement for Bourne, who had died an early death, it appointed Bingham as a lecturer in South American history.
Bingham has been considered one of the pioneers of teaching and research on Latin American history in the U.S. In 1908, he published an assessment of the field's prospects entitled "The Possibilities of South American History and Politics as a Field for Research," in which he surveyed library and archival resources in the U.S. as well as in South America. From 1924, he was a member of the Acorn Club.
Bingham was not a trained archaeologist. Yet, it was during Bingham's time as a lecturer - later professor - in South American history at Yale that he re-discovered the largely forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu. In 1908, he had 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. Bingham published an account of this trip in Across South America; an account of a journey from Buenos Aires to Lima by way of Potosi, with notes on Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.
Bingham was thrilled by the prospect of unexplored Inca cities, and organized the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition with one of its objectives to search for the last capital of the Incas. He in fact, guided by locals, rediscovered and correctly identified both Vitcos (then called Rosaspata) and Vilcabamba (then called Espiritu Pampa), which he named "Eromboni Pampa". However, he did not correctly recognize Vilcabamba as the last capital, instead continuing onward and misidentifying Machu Picchu as the "Lost City of the Incas", as his book titled it.
On July 24, 1911, Melchor Arteaga led Bingham to Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley. Bingham returned to Peru in 1912, 1914 and 1915 with the support of Yale and the National Geographic Society. In The Lost City of the Incas (1948), Bingham related how he came to believe that Machu Picchu housed a major religious shrine and served as a training center for religious leaders. Modern archaeological research has since determined that the site was not a religious center but a royal estate to which Inca leaders and their entourage repaired during the Andean summer.