Polar Timeline

The Polar Timeline seeks to combine the life events and achievements of three major explorers - Byrd, Wilkins and Cook - with the achievements of the Byrd Polar Research Center, within the context of other US and World Polar events.

Images and other media from the archival collections of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Frederick A. Cook, Sir George Hubert Wilkins and the Byrd Polar Research Center are featured in this timeline.

1497-08-23 00:00:00

John Cabot leads first expedition seeking Northwest Passage

Sponsored by Henry VII of England, this would be the beginning of more than 400 years of attempts to navigate a Northwest Passage.

1553-08-23 00:00:00

Sir Hugh Willoughby attempts Northeast Passage

Willoughby's entire party of men died in Lapland.

1819-08-23 00:00:00

William Edward Parry begins first true opening of the northwest passage

Sailing though Lancaster Sound into the unexplored Canadian archipelago, the Parry expedition wintered at the Melville Islands. This was the first deliberate Arctic wintering by British naval ships.

1820-01-01 00:00:00

First recorded sighting of the Antarctic continent

Two expeditions, each unaware of the other's existance, made the first sightings of the Antarctic mainland in January 1820.

1820-01-01 00:00:00

John Franklin explores the north coast of America

Franklin was the captain of this British naval expedition that explored the north coast of America east from the Coppermine River to the Hudson Bay.

1845-08-23 00:00:00

John Franklin attempts the Northwest Passage yet again

Though this was the most lavishly equipped Northwest passage expedition in history, it was an epic failure.

1853-12-01 00:00:00

Elisha Kent Kane credited with discovery of the open polar sea

Kane participated in two Arctic expeditions. Both were John Franklin rescue missions.

1865-06-10 00:00:00

Frederick A. Cook is born

Frederick Albert Cook is born on June 10, 1865 in Hortonville, NY.

1867-06-10 00:00:00

US purchases Alaska from Russia

At about this time, the focus of Arctic exploration shifts from the discovery of a navigable Northwest Passage to other parts of the Arctic, and ultimately, the attainment of the North Pole.

1881-10-25 00:00:00

Greely Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay

Led by American Adolphus Greely, the expedition attained farthest north, and 83 degrees 24 minutes. However, imclement weather doomed the expedition in their third winter. Eighteen men died, mostly from famine and scurvy.

1882-12-01 00:00:00

1st International Polar Year (IPY)

The International Polar Year was the brainchild of Karl Weyprecht (1838-1881), who conceived the idea while discovering Franz Josef Land as co-leader of the Austro-Hungarian expedition of 1872-1874.

1888-10-25 00:00:00

Richard E. Byrd is born

Richard E. Byrd is born In Winchester, VA, son of Richard Evelyn Byrd and Eleanor Bolling Flood.

1888-10-25 00:00:00

Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen leads first expedition across Greenland Icecap

Nansen would achieve notariety again in 1895, when he skied and sledged to a farthest north of 86 degrees 13 minutes 6 seconds.

1888-10-31 00:00:00

George Hubert Wilkins is born

George Wilkins is born at Mt. Bryan East, South Australia, 31 October 1888. George was the youngest of 13 children born to Harry and Louisa Wilkins.

1891-12-01 00:00:00

Cook volunteers for Peary's Greenland Expedition

In 1891 Dr. Frederick Albert Cook began his career as an explorer as a member of Peary's first expedition to North Greenland, where he served as Peary's surgeon and as ethnologist.

1897-12-01 00:00:00

Cook joins the Belgian Antarctic Expedition

In 1897, Cook volunteered for the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, and achieved international recognition in his role of surgeon and photographer. He made important scientific discoveries on this expedition, including the effect of eating raw meat in order to cure the ship's crew of scurvy. Cook also served a critical role on this expedition in his efforts to release the frozen Belgica by sawing a canal in the ice.

1897-12-01 00:00:00

Salomon August Andree attempts to reach the North Pole by balloon

Andre, along with two companions, landed the balloon far from the Pole, They all died on the little known island of Kvitoya, just east of Svalbard. Nothing was known of their fate until 1930.

1899-12-01 00:00:00

First winter-over on the Antarctic mainland

Carsten Borchgrevink and the members of the Southern Cross Expedition land at Cape Adare in Victoria Land and erect prefabricated huts.

1901-12-01 00:00:00

Cook joins Erik North Pole Relief Expedition

In 1901, Cook joined the Erik, in a relief expedition for Peary, sponsored by the Peary Arctic Club.

1902-11-01 00:00:00

Robert Scott of Britain attempts to reach the South Pole

Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton set off from McMurdo Sound in an attempt to reach the South Pole. Though they were not successful in reaching the pole, they did achieve the furthest south, at 82 degrees.

1903-12-01 00:00:00

Cook's 1st expedition to Mt. McKinley

In 1903 Cook led an expedition to Mount McKinley, which resulted in his circumnavigation of the Denali range. It was 75 years later before this achievment would be repeated.

1903-12-01 00:00:00

Discovery of Taylor Valley, Antarctica

Taylor Valley is the southern one of the three large Dry Valleys in the Transantarctic Mountains, Victoria Land, located west of McMurdo Sound.

1903-12-01 00:00:00

Norwegian Roald Amundsen navigates the Northwest Passage

Leading a seven member expedition on the ship Gjoa, Amundsen became the first to lead a ship through the treacherous route. It would take them three years.

1906-12-01 00:00:00

Cook's 2nd expedition to Mt. McKinley

In 1906 Cook embarked on his second expedition to Mt. McKinley. It was during this expedition that Cook claimed to have reached the summit, becoming the first person to do so.

1907-12-01 00:00:00

Cook begins North Pole Expedition

In 1907, Cook made his quest to the North Pole, and claimed to have reached the Pole on April 21, 1908. However, drifting ice prohibited his southward return, and he was forced to spend the Polar night in a shelter with his two Eskimo companions. It wasn't until September 1, 1909 that Cook announced his discovery of the North Pole.

1908-12-01 00:00:00

Byrd enters US Naval Academy

Richard E. Byrd entered the US Naval Academy in 1908 and graduated with the class of 1912

1911-12-14 00:00:00

Amundsen reaches the South Pole

Norwegian Roald Amundsen, with four companions and 18 dogs plants the Norwegian flag at the South Pole. It took him 57 days from his base at the Bay of Whales.

1912-01-18 00:00:00

Scott reaches the South Pole but perishes on the return journey

"Great God this is an awful place." - Robert Falcon Scott.

1912-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins photographs the Balkan War

In 1908, Wilkins was hired by the Gaumont Company of London as a cinematographer and by the London Daily Chronicle as a reporter. In 1912, the Gaumont Company sent Wilkins to Constantinople to photograph and shoot movies of the Balkan War.

1913-02-28 00:00:00

Wilkins joins Stefansson's Arctic Expedition

Wilkins was hired by Viljhalmur Stefansson as a photographer. Eventually, he bacame second in command of the expedition, known as the Canadian Arctic Expedition.

1914-08-23 00:00:00

Ernest Shackleton attempts to cross Antarctica

In what would become one of the sensational sagas of survival in Antarctic history, Shackleton and his men are forced to abandon their ship "Endurance" when it is crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea.

1917-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins serves in WWI as a photographer

Wilkins was an officer in the Australian Flying Corp, and he and fellow Australian Frank Hurley were appointed to document the war in images.

1919-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins joins British Imperial Antarctic Expedition

Wilkins returned to polar exploration in 1919 by making his first trip to the Antarctic with the British Imperial Antarctic Expedition

1921-02-05 00:00:00

Wilkins joins Shackleton-Rowett Expedition

From 1921-1922, Wilkins was chief of the scientific staff and naturalist for the Sir Ernest Shackleton Quest Antarctic Expedition.

1922-12-01 00:00:00

Cook organizes Petroleum Producers Association

In 1917 Dr. Cook was hired by New York Oil to prospect for oil based on his knowledge of geology, and he eventually became president of Texas Eagle Oil Company in Fort Worth. However, in 1920, a slump in the oil business forced the company out of business. It was then that Cook formed the Petroleum Producers Association, which became one of the largest employers in Fort Worth.

1923-12-01 00:00:00

Jury convicts Cook of mail fraud

In 1923 Cook was accused and indicted of mail fraud in relation to his oil business.

1925-12-01 00:00:00

Byrd joins the MacMillan Arctic Expedition

Byrd had been interested in polar exploration since childhood. He got his start in 1925 when he joined the MacMillan Arctic Expedition where he completed the first flights over Ellsmere Island and the interior of Greenland.

1925-12-01 00:00:00

Cook is sent to Leavenworth Prison

Cook was sent to federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1925, where he served five years. During his time in Leavenworth, Cook served as physician in the hospital, as well as editor of the prison newspaper, New Era.

1926-05-09 00:00:00

Byrd departs for North Pole from Spitzbergen

In 1926, Byrd took leave from the Navy to organize a privately financed expedition to the Arctic, which was to be based in Spitzbergen.

1926-05-12 00:00:00

Norge airship flies over the North Pole

The Norge was an Italian built airship. The expedition was the brainchild of Amundsen, the airship's designer and pilot was Umberto Nobile, and the American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth financed the trip.

1926-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins commences Wilkins-Detroit Arctic Expeditions

From 1926-1928, Wilkins was commander of the Wilkins-Detroit Arctic Expeditions sponsored by the Detroit Aviation Society and the Detroit News.

1928-12-01 00:00:00

1st expedition to Antarctica: BAE I

Cheered by the outpouring of public support and admiration, Byrd continued his leave from the Navy and turned his focus on Antarctica.

1928-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins and Eielson make first Trans-Arctic airplane flight

It was during the Wilkins-Detroit Expedition that Wilkins and Ben Eielson made their historic first trans-Arctic airplane flight from Point Barrow, Alaska to Spitzbergen. This event occurred in April of 1928.

1928-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins knighted by King George V

For his accomplishment in his trans-arctic flight, Wilkins was knighted by King George V of England.

1930-12-01 00:00:00

Cook is paroled and moves to Chicago

Upon his parole, in 1930, Cook went to work on his memoirs in Chicago and led a relatively quiet life.

1931-12-01 00:00:00

Arctic Expedition in Nautilus Submarine

In 1931, Sir Hubert Wilkins commanded the Nautilus submarine expedition to the Arctic. This was the first submarine to travel under the Arctic pack ice.

1932-12-01 00:00:00

2nd International Polar Year (IPY)

The International Meteorological Organization proposed and promoted the Second IPY (1932–1933) as an effort to investigate the global implications of the newly discovered “Jet Stream.” 40 nations participated in the Second IPY, and it heralded advances in meteorology, magnetism, atmospheric science, and in the “mapping” of ionospheric phenomena that advanced radioscience and technology. Forty permanent observation stations were established in the Arctic, creating a step-function expansion in ongoing scientific Arctic research. In Antarctica, the U.S. contribution was the second Byrd Antarctic expedition, which established a winter-long meteorological station approximately 125 miles south of Little America Station on the Ross Ice Shelf at the southern end of Roosevelt Island. This was the first research station inland from Antarctica’s coast. Source: http://classic.ipy.org/development/history.htm

1933-08-27 19:36:25

August Howard proposes idea for American Polar Society

August Howard, the son of a tailor and Russian immigrant, grew up fascinated by Richard Byrd and the romance and adventure of polar exploration and adopted Byrd as his personal hero.

1933-12-01 00:00:00

2nd expedition to Antarctica: BAE II

"My decision to return to Antarctica with a second exploring expedition was not so much a spontaneous thought as a maturing compulsion bred by the work of my first expedition."

1933-12-01 00:00:00

Wilkins participates in three Ellsworth Antarctic Expeditions

During the 1930s, Wilkins travelled to the Antarctic four times as second-in-command of the Lincoln Ellsworth Antarctic Flight Expeditions.

Polar Timeline

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