In the period following World War I, new scientific and technological advances were introduced to further Antarctic exploration. An Australian, Sir George Hubert Wilkins, made the first aircraft flight over Antarctica, on November 26, 1928. However, it was U.S. explorer Richard E. Byrd who would successfully mobilize radios, tractors, airplanes, and aerial cameras for his expeditions.
Byrd established his first base, “Little America,” in 1928, near the site of Franheim, Amundsen’s 1911 campsite on the sea edge of the Ross Ice Shelf by the Bay of Whales. From this base Byrd made the first exploratory flight over the South Pole on November 29, 1929. In recognition of this achievement he was elevated to the rank of rear admiral by an act of Congress. On his second expedition (1933–1935), Byrd successfully combined aerial flights with long sledge and tractor journeys to further explore the interior Marie Byrd Land.
This promotional map was issued with the claim that was used exclusively by Byrd on both his Antarctic Expeditions. Members of the Little America Aviation and Exploration Club received reports on expeditions, so that they could plot their progress on the map. Only the known, explored parts of the continent are depicted. Shaded areas indicate land permanently covered by ice and snow while white areas indicate unexplored land.
72. George O. Noville
Little America Aviation and Exploration Club Map
n.p.: The Tide Water Oil Co., 1933
Byrd mastered the art of public relations and self-promotion in order to raise the funds to support his costly expeditions. To generate public interest for his first expedition (1928–1930), he organized an essay competition for a boy scout to accompany him to the Antarctic. The finalist, Paul Siple, later documented his adventures in his book, A Boy Scout with Byrd [item 74]. As an adult Siple returned to the Antarctic five times, becoming an outstanding authority on the southern continent in his own right as a climatologist and geographer [item 75].
Byrd invited a team of Paramount newsreel photographers to document the activities at his base, Little America. Because thousands of feet of film were constantly at risk of being frozen, the photographers dreaded the job of developing the film at the base camp — each batch taking eighteen hours in absolute darkness without even a red light — more than the risks they had undertaken during the actual filming. The completed film, With Byrd at the South Pole, was shown in theaters around the world reinforcing popular interest in polar exploration.
Byrd wrote several popular books recounting his Polar adventures. Alone, his most personal book, describes his struggle to survive five months in absolute solitude and polar darkness at Advance Base in 1934 while desperately ill and near death from gas fumes given off by the generator and stove in his cabin [item 80].
The 1930s began an era of international rivalry in Antarctica, with competing territorial claims staked out by Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the U.S.A. The United States government supported Antarctic exploration, establishing the U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941), with Byrd as director. The newly established permanent bases would only be closed, and then briefly, during World War II.
U.S. territorial claims were bolstered by the issuance of official stamps, long understood as symbols of national autonomy. In 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was himself an avid stamp collector, thought a special stamp might touch the hearts of the public to support Byrd’s costly polar expeditions. The president’s pencil sketch served as the design for the 3-cent Byrd Antarctic Expedition II stamp, commemorating Byrd’s exploratory flights to map the South Pole [item 81]. Subsequently, on his fourth expedition (1946–1947), which was the largest U.S. Navy expedition up to that time, Byrd and three other officers signed the cacheted cover which was cancelled “U.S.S. MOUNT OLYMPUS FEB 3 P.M. 1947”; printed on the envelope is “MAILED AT LITTLE AMERICA” [item 82].