Scope & Content

After the death of Admiral Byrd in 1957, his wife Marie Ames Byrd held his papers until 1974. After her death, their son (Richard Byrd, Jr.) took physical possession of much of the material. The Byrd papers at this time were stored in a variety of containers and periodically moved to several warehouses and at least one barn. Each move increased the collection's deterioration and disorganization.

In 1985 The Ohio State University competed against other universities for the Byrd papers. It was successful because of its active programs in polar research conducted by the University's Institute of Polar Studies. In addition, the University renamed the Institute as the Byrd Polar Research Center in honor of the explorer.

In a separate action, the Byrd Foundation divested itself of its assets and provided funds to The Ohio State University to create an endowment. At the direction of the Foundation and by the terms of the agreement, the income from this endowment must be used exclusively to support graduate and post-graduate fellowships for field researchers.

Finally, in May of 1990 the University acquired from the Byrd family another 250 cubic feet of the papers of the Admiral as an addition to the previous donation. These papers had been separated from the main collection to establish a museum, which did not take place. This material was even more deteriorated and disorganized than the first set, having been stored in a barn. Funding from the U.S. Department of Education (Title II-C, Strengthening Library Resources) provided for the processing of the papers from November 1, 1992 through October 31, 1994.

As a whole, the Byrd Papers document the career of Admiral Richard Byrd (1888-1957) and his family from 1839 to 1980. They consist of fourteen series of materials that include correspondence, publications and printed material, expeditionary records, newspaper clippings, photographs, maps and charts, artifacts, audio recordings and motion picture films.

The largest series contains Byrd's personal papers. These include correspondence with family members and the public, speeches, financial records, notebooks, writings by and about Byrd, and family papers. As a public figure and as a hero, Byrd corresponded with people important in politics, in business, and in social life. His correspondents included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Edsel Ford, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as well as other explorers, such as Roald Amundsen, Sir Hubert Wilkins, and Lincoln Ellsworth. Interactions with mass media, including newspapers and motion pictures are also represented in this series and in separate series containing newspaper clippings and motion picture films. It should be noted that some of the notebooks include information on the expeditions as well as documenting Byrd's daily activities while in the United States.

Among the expeditionary records, which is the second-largest of the series, the most thoroughly documented expeditions are Byrd Antarctic Expedition II and Byrd Antarctic Expedition I in that order, while the MacMillan expedition, the Trans-Atlantic flight, and Operation High Jump are the least documented. Byrd's expeditions involved many men and much equipment. These factors, along with concerns for diet and nutrition, constitute a significant portion of this series.

Particularly extensive and noteworthy is the series containing photographs. As a public figure, and one who depended upon publicity of his accomplishments to raise financial support, photographic documentation was important to Byrd. The photographs extensively document Byrd's expeditions and public activities as well as his personal life.

Despite the small size of the series, the newspaper accounts are also quite thorough in documenting Byrd's life. They cover his early naval career as well as the later expeditions that gave him his greatest fame. They also extensively document the life of the Admiral's brother, Harry F. Byrd (1887-1966) who was governor of Virginia in the late 1920s and later a U.S. Senator. Their greatest significance, however, lies in two areas. First is the evidence they provide about Byrd's public image and the role of the media in shaping the public perception of him. Second is the indication they give of the public's interest in polar exploration at the time of Byrd's greatest fame and the accompanying nationalism that Byrd himself helped in fostering.

Equally important in the shaping of the image of Byrd as a public hero were films and audio recordings. Three series (films, audio tapes, and phonograph records) allow researchers the opportunity to experience Byrd's communications with the public firsthand. They include footage from the expeditions as well as recordings, both visual and audio, of public appearances by Byrd and expedition members. Also included are family recordings, which illuminate the personal lives of Byrd, his wife, and children.

The Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd have a physical extent of 523 cubic feet in 495 boxes and 7 drawers.

Restrictions on Access:

As a condition of the acquisition, less than a cubic foot of letters between Admiral Byrd and his wife remain confidential until the deaths of all of their children. Many of the letters between the couple, which are in other parts of the collection, are open to research.

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