You are logged on as '': logout Login/Register
Freeze Frame Scott Polar Research Institute

You are in: Resources > Biographies > Byrd Admiral Richard Evelyn

Byrd, Admiral Richard Evelyn (1888-1957)

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.

He married Marie Donaldson Ames in January 1915, together they had four children, Richard Evelyn Jr., Evelyn Bolling Byrd Clarke, Catherine Agnes Byrd Breyer and Helen Byrd Stabler.

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 off 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, organised 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, aged 69.

Published Work

Byrd, R.E (1928) Skyward. New York: Putnam. Repeinted: Penguin 2000.

Byrd, R.E (1938) Alone. London:Putnan. Reprinted: Shearwater Books US 2003.

Byrd, R.E (1935) Discovery, the story of the second Byrd Antarctic expedition. New York: Putnam.

Further Information

Mills, W (2003) Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia.

Rose, L.A (2008) Explorer: The life of Richard E Byrd. University Missouri Press.

Stonehouse, B. ed (2002) Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed Obituary in The Polar Record Vol.9 no.58 January 1958 p54-55.