Byrd, Richard Evelyn

Byrd, Richard Evelyn, 1888–1957, American aviator and polar explorer, b. Winchester, Va. He took up aviation in 1917, and after World War I he gained great fame in the air. He commanded the naval air unit with the arctic expedition of D. B. MacMillan in 1925. He and Floyd Bennett reported their historic flight from Spitsbergen to the North Pole and back again in 1926; however, entries from his diary suggest that they may not actually have reached the pole. In 1927 Byrd and three companions made one of the spectacular early flights across the Atlantic. A record of his flights was presented in Skyward (1928). Two years later he led a well-equipped and efficiently organized expedition to Antarctica. Establishing a base at Little America, he discovered the Rockefeller Range and Marie Byrd Land, and late in 1929 he and Bernt Balchen flew to the South Pole and back. The large party gathered much scientific information.

In 1930 Byrd was promoted to rear admiral, and his book Little America was published. His second large expedition was organized in 1933, and headquarters were established once again at Little America. As winter approached, he set up an advance base 123 mi (198 km) closer to the South Pole and stayed there alone for several months making observations. Discovery (1935) and Alone (1938) were records of this fruitful expedition. In 1939–40 he was again in the antarctic, commanding a government expedition, and in 1946–47 he headed the U.S. navy expedition, the largest yet sent to the region (see Antarctica). In 1955, Byrd was placed in command of all U.S. antarctic activities, and in 1955–56 he led his fifth expedition to the region. Due mainly to his efforts, the U.S. navy organized (1955–59) Operation Deep Freeze.

See E. P. Hoyt, The Last Explorer (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Explorers, Travelers, and Conquerors: Biographies