Resources for Teachers

Paper Powell

John Wesley Powell was an explorer, scientist, and teacher. What do YOU think it takes to be an explorer? Where do YOU want to go? Down an unmapped canyon? To the South Pole? To the moon or to Mars? Have fun exploring! You can start today by taking John Wesley Powell on an adventure in your neighborhood, or even in front of a fun photo or map.


  • Download, print, and color John Wesley Powell and use scissors to cut out the figure. For a sturdier Paper Powell, use glue or tape to attach your sheet to a thin piece of spare cardboard, such as an old cereal box. 
  • Take Paper Powell on an adventure, and photograph the places he goes. 
  • Feel free to tag us on Instagram @USGS_YES and use #powell150, or email it to us for use in educational materials at By doing so, you are granting us permission to use your photo in educational materials, in accordance with our policy at
  • Optional: After your Paper Powell has been on adventures with you, send him on adventures with a friend or relative.  Or, ask your parents for a stamp and send Paper Powell to us by April 30, 2019: U.S. Geological Survey, Youth & Education in Science (YES) Program Mail Stop 911,12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20192 and your John Wesley Powell may get a chance to travel down the Green & Colorado Rivers with our partners, the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition (SCREE), 150 years after his first expedition! Submissions will not be returned. 
  • The USGS acknowledges the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Page, AZ as the source for the Paper Powell concept. For adventures with Powell beyond the sesquicentenial, please consider the  John Wesley Powell River History Museum’s Paper Powell Program (


Who was John Wesley Powell?

  • John Wesley Powell was born on March 24, 1834, in Mount Morris, New York.
  • As a young boy, he loved to read and explore nature. He was very interested in botany and geology and rafted down the Ohio, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers as a young man.
  • He was wounded during the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 and doctors had to amputate his right arm near his elbow. He returned to active duty in the U.S. Army and was promoted to Major.
  • He became a geology professor in Illinois and loved taking students on outdoor field trips to explore new places, including to Colorado and other western states, to make new discoveries.
  • In 1869, at age 35, John Wesley Powell led a team of ten people on a journey from Green River, Wyoming through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He returned to the region in 1871-1872 to make more scientific and cultural discoveries.       
  • He founded the Smithsonian Institute’s Bureau of Ethnology, was a co-founder of the National Geographic Society and the Cosmos Club, and was the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey (1881-1884).