Richard Byrd collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Byrd relating to polar matters

Administrative / Biographical History

Richard Evelyn Byrd was born on 25 October 1888 in Virginia. He was educated at the University of Virginia and the US Naval Academy, Annapolis. Receiving his commission in the US Navy in 1912, he was compelled to retire in 1916 because of a leg injury. Relegated to deskwork in the Naval Reserve, he was recalled when the United States entered the First World War, training as a pilot in the newly-formed Naval Air Service. In 1918, Byrd was involved in planning the first long-distance flights of the US Navy seaplanes across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1925, he was seconded to Donald Baxter MacMillan's expedition to northwest Greenland as planning and liaison officer, gaining his first Arctic flying experience over west Greenland and Ellesmere Island. The following year, Byrd organized a private expedition to attempt a flight from Svalbard to the North Pole in a tri-motor Fokker monoplane with Floyd Bennett. Byrd claimed to have reached the North Pole, although recent analysis of his diary suggests that he may have turned back before reaching the Pole due to concerns about aircraft serviceability. In June 1927, Byrd made a non-stop flight across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to France with four companions, crash landing in the sea at Ver-sur-Mer.

His established reputation now made it possible to contemplate larger ventures and Byrd announced his object of reaching the South Pole by air on the United States Antarctic Expedition, 1928-1930. From his base at 'Little America' in the Bay of Whales, a series of exploratory flights were made over and beyond King Edward VII Land, during which the Rockefeller Mountains, Edsel Ford Ranges (now Ford Ranges) and Marie Byrd Land were discovered. Laurence McKinley Gould, chief scientist and second-in-command, led dog-sledging parties to study the geology of the Rockefeller and Queen Maud Mountains.

Advancing to the rank of rear-admiral in the US Naval Reserve, Byrd made full use of media publicity to promote a second United States Antarctic Expedition, 1933-1935, organized to continue previous scientific and geographical exploration in the Antarctic. An extensive scientific and exploratory programme was conducted from both ground and air using the extended base, 'Little America'. His success on this expedition persuaded the US government that Antarctic exploration was no longer a matter for private enterprise and, in 1939, Byrd was given command of the government-backed United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-1941, with the objectives of delineating the coast between 72 and 148 degrees West and consolidating the discoveries of the previous two expeditions. Two bases were established to achieve this, one at 'Little America' and the other on Stonington Island, Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Planned to last for several years with changing personnel, the expedition ended under threat of the Second World War.

During the Second World War, Byrd advised on cold-weather clothing and equipment, and in planning long-range air routes for war in the Pacific Ocean. He was appointed officer-in-charge of the United States Navy Antarctic Developments Project, 1946-1947 (Operation Highjump), revisiting the continent and flying to the South Pole. His last expedition to Antarctica was as officer-in-charge of the United States Expedition, 1955-1956 (Operation Deep-Freeze), in connection with the International Geophysical Year Programs. He died on 11 March 1957 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Published work Alone by Richard Evelyn Bird, Putnam London (1938) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1933-1935 Byrd] Skyward... by Richard Evelyn Bird, Penguin Putnam New York (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Byrd, R.E.] Discovery, the story of the second Byrd Antarctic expedition by Richard Evelyn Bird, G.P. Putnam's Sons New York (1935) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1933-35 Byrd]


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland, Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills, San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events by Robert Keith Headland (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible