US aviator and explorer who made the first flight over the South Pole and who later headed US expeditions to survey Antarctica.
Byrd was commissioned as an ensign in the US navy in 1912 and in World War I served in a naval air squadron based in Canada. On 9 May 1925, Byrd, acting as navigator to Floyd Bennett, claimed to have made the first flight over the North Pole on a return trip from King's Bay, Spitsbergen. He was promoted to commander and awarded a Congressional medal of honour in recognition of this achievement, although doubts over Byrd's claim have since emerged. Following this, in 1927, he and three companions flew the direct transatlantic route between New York and France, for which Byrd received the Distinguished Flying Cross and was made a Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur. The ensuing fame enabled him, in 1928, to obtain financial backing for an expedition to Antarctica. This set out in October and established a base camp, called Little America, near the Bay of Whales. Aerial reconnaissance revealed hitherto unknown features, including Rockefeller Plateau, named after one of Byrd's sponsors, and Marie Byrd Land, named after his wife. On 29 November 1929, Byrd and three crew members made the first flight over the South Pole. Shortly afterwards, Byrd was promoted to rear-admiral.
On a second Antarctic expedition (1933–35), Byrd spent five months alone in a weather station hut on the Ross Ice Shelf enduring temperatures as low as –60°C. His book, Alone (1938), details this experience. Byrd conducted further surveys in Antarctica and during World War II served on US naval staff. In 1955 he was appointed head of Operation Deepfreeze, one of the US contributions to International Geophysical Year (1957–58).
Subjects: Warfare and Defence — Contemporary History (Post 1945).