Richard Evelyn Byrd
American rear admiral

1888 - 1957

Richard Evelyn Byrd, an American rear admiral, was an Antarctic and Arctic explorer, aviator, and navigator. Between 1928 and 1957, he did more than any other person to direct the exploration of the bleak, frozen continent of Antarctica.

In 1925, Byrd had his first taste of Arctic flying when he commanded the MacMillan Arctic Expedition's airplane flights over Greenland and Ellesmere Island. Byrd and American pilot Floyd Bennett claimed they flew to the North Pole, on May 9, 1926, but some scholars dispute that claim.

Byrd's first Antarctic expedition, from 1928 to 1930, was equipped with aircraft to fly to the South Pole. The expedition established its Antarctic base, Little America, on the Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales. On Nov. 28 and 29, 1929, Byrd and his chief pilot, Bernt Balchen, flew to the South Pole.

The second Byrd expedition to Antarctica, which lasted from 1933 to 1935, undertook many scientific research projects. These projects included studies of meteors, cosmic rays, weather, geography, the earth's magnetism, and seismograph studies of Antarctica's icecap. Byrd himself manned an advance base most of one winter. Byrd described this experience in his book Alone (1938).

In 1939, Byrd commanded the United States Antarctic Service expedition. The expedition built Little America III and sent out five major exploring parties. World War II (1939-1945) forced the expedition to abandon its bases in 1941.

After his service in World War II, the Department of the Navy appointed Byrd officer in charge of Operation Highjump. The expedition explored an area of Antarctica equal in size to that of Germany and France, and did extensive mapping. Byrd made his second flight over the South Pole on Feb. 16, 1947.

Byrd again took charge of the U.S. Antarctic program for the International Geophysical Year of 1957 and 1958. He visited Antarctica in 1955 and 1956, saw Little America V established, and flew over the South Pole for a third time. He worked on plans for future Antarctic explorations until his death.

Byrd was born in Winchester, Va. He was the brother of U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912. He entered naval aviation during World War I and helped plan the transatlantic flight of naval seaplanes. Marie Byrd Land in Antarctica is named after his wife.

Contributor: William Barr, M.S., Prof., Department of Geography, Univ. of Saskatchewan.

Additional resources

DeLeeuw, Adele. Richard E. Byrd: Adventurer to the Poles. 1963. Reprint. Chelsea Hse., 1992. Younger readers.

Rodgers, Eugene. Beyond the Barrier: The Story of Byrd's First Expedition to Antarctica. Naval Inst. Pr., 1990.

Vaughan, Norman D., and Murphey, Cecil. With Byrd at the Bottom of the World. Stackpole, 1990.


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