Admiral Richard E. Byrd: An American Explorer and Icon

April 18, 2022

Admiral Richard E. Byrd: An American Explorer and Icon

In commemoration of one of America’s greatest polar explorers, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, American watch company Kobold created a watch bearing the legendary explorer’s name. 

Richard E. Byrd’s historic flights to the North Pole in May of 1926 and to the South Pole in November of 1929, propelled the naval aviator into the hearts and minds of his contemporaries around the world. A fitting tribute, the Kobold Richard Byrd Automatic Watch is equal parts sleek and sturdy, with a black DLC-coated stainless steel case with domed sapphire crystal, screw-down crown and screw-locked caseback. Most importantly, the watch was designed, engineered, fabricated, assembled, and tested in the United States. 

Kobold Richard Byrd Automatic Watch

Early Polar Career

Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s polar career began in 1924 when he had command of a small naval aviation expedition to western Greenland. His time in Greenland inspired him to attempt a flight over the North Pole. On May 9, 1926, Byrd as navigator and Floyd Bennett as pilot made what they claimed to be the first airplane journey over the North Pole. They flew from King’s Bay in Norway, to the North Pole, and back. The flight lasted 15 1/2  hours. For this feat, Byrd and Bennett were awarded the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor and were acclaimed as national heroes. 

In 1928 Byrd announced his decision to explore the unknown regions of the Antarctic from the air. Without serious government backing, Byrd sought financial support for the $400,000 venture from wealthy Americans like Edsel Ford and John D. Rockefeller Jr., and used his North Pole fame to convince the American public to contribute small amounts of money, food, and supplies. 

Establishing "Little America" & First South Pole Flight

Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition (1928–30) sailed south in October 1928. His team built a substantial base on the face of the Ross Ice Shelf and called it "Little America." Flights were made from this base all over the Antarctic continent. A range of high mountains, named the Rockefeller Mountains, was discovered, and a large territory track beyond the Rockefeller Mountains was named Marie Byrd Land, after Byrd’s wife. On November 29, 1929, Byrd and three companions made the first flight over the South Pole, flying from Little America to the Pole and back in 19 hours.

Returning to the South Pole for a Second Expedition

In 1933–35, a second Byrd expedition visited "Little America" with the aim of mapping and claiming land around the Pole. He extended the exploration of Marie Byrd Land and continued his scientific observations. During the winter of 1934, Byrd spent five months alone in a hut at a weather station named Bolling Advance Base, buried beneath the ice shelf face more than 100 miles south of Little America. There he endured temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees below freezing, bleak isolation, and suffered from the effects of monoxide poisoning, all to study the area. He was eventually rescued from the base and he wrote a bestselling book about the expedition, entitled Discovery: The Story of the Second Byrd Antarctic ExpeditionWe have a signed, first edition printing of this book in our inventory. 

Discovery: The Story of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition, Signed First Edition

U.S.-Backed Polar Expeditions

At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Byrd took command of the U.S. Antarctic service and led a third expedition to Antarctica in 1939–41. This expedition was fully financed by the U.S. government. Bases were located at Little America and Stonington Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula. Byrd’s discovery of Thurston Island greatly decreased the length of unexplored coast of the continent.

After World War II, Byrd was placed in charge of the U.S. Navy’s Operation High Jump, his fourth and largest Antarctic expedition. It involved 4,700 men, 13 ships, and 25 airplanes. The team of Operation High Jump mapped and photographed 537,000 square miles of Antarctic coastline and interior, much of it never seen before. Byrd made a second flight over the South Pole, and took part in several other exploratory flights. In 1955 Byrd was made officer in charge of the United States’ Antarctic programs and became the senior authority for government Antarctic matters. In this capacity he helped supervise Operation Deep Freeze, a major scientific and exploratory expedition sent to the Antarctic.

Admiral Byrd's Lasting Legacy

Byrd was one of the world’s foremost aviators and displayed extraordinary bravery and leadership throughout his many successful expeditions to Antarctica. His five Antarctic expeditions yielded an abundance of new information about the continent, and operations High Jump and Deep Freeze were milestones in the history of sustained scientific polar research. 

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