This blog post is part of the Frozen Friday Series, an A-Z journey of the Polar Archives.  Each week, we will feature some aspect of the history of polar exploration with a blog post written by our student authors.


Several buildings in Little America under

What do you think of when you hear the name “Little America?”  Perhaps a quaint little neighborhood in a bustling European city where American emigrants have made a home? You’d be wrong.  Picture instead, a small upstart “village” near of the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf  in Antarctica[1]. The air is frigid and the ground covered in snow. You can see buildings in the snow, prefabricated structures meant to provide the most basic housing and shelter for their inhabitants and their tools. Yes, this was Little America I, the base of operations for the First Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1928-1930), the first American expedition into Antarctica in almost a century (the last being the U.S. Exploring Expedition under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes and ending in 1840)[2]. The purpose of the expedition was geographical exploration and to secure for the United States the prestige of being the first nation to fly to the South Pole[3], a feat that, to many, seemed a foolhardy endeavor[4].


Little America had radio contact with the outside
world. Radio broadcasts were both received in and
broadcasted from Antarctica.

Despite the skepticism of the time, then-Commander Richard Byrd (later Admiral) and his motley crew of just forty-one men set out to winter in Antarctica[5]. As one would expect, the conditions were harsh. The mean temperature at Little America for the month was often recorded as below zero[6]. On July 28, 1929, it was reported that the temperature was -72° Fahrenheit[7]. It was also recorded that in that same month, one day saw a combination of a temperature of -64° Fahrenheit with winds reaching speeds of twenty-five miles per hour[8]. The winds were such a problem that one of three planes brought by the expedition was picked up and carried almost nine-hundred yards away from camp[9].


Admiral Byrd and some of his men gather around a
sound system, presumably to listen to a radio
broadcast from the United States.

The inhabitants of Little America I consisted of Byrd, four trained pilots, “three aircraft mechanics, three radio operators, five dog drivers, a doctor, three surveyors, a tailor, a carpenter, news media experts, a cook, and general hands”[10]. There were also four scientists, including the geologist Dr. Larry Gould, Byrd’s second-in-command[11].  Together these men of “varying temperaments, skills, and backgrounds” would function and accomplish their mission in one of the harshest environments on the planet[12]. Though their purpose was one of exploration and science, the men walking in the tunnels of snow connecting the buried structures of Little America still managed to find amusement on the frozen continent[13].


The site of Little America I would be used again in
subsequent expeditions.

Radio broadcasts from WGY, Schenectady and KDKA, Pittsburgh were beamed directly to Little America every Saturday at 4 PM local time[14]. The men would gather to feel that so desired connection to the outside world[15].   The first radio broadcast from Little America, Antarctica, was on February 3, 1934.


“Little America” became a cultural icon in the United
States. Many businesses took on its name, including
this place in Wyoming, which still operates today.

The First Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1928-1930) was a success, in part due to Little America itself. The site of Little America I would even be used again several times as Little Americas II-IV (Little America V would be at a different location father east)[17]. Richard Byrd would be the first man to fly to the South Pole and much of the interior of Antarctica itself[18]. The success of the expedition recaptured the American fascination with the southern continent and it proved the usefulness of the airplane, aerial camera, the radio, and the snowmobile[19]. It was this expedition that brought man’s exploration into the Mechanical Era[20]. The site of Little America is now under water, as the ice on which the site was settled has long broken apart.[21]

Written by John Hooton.


[1] Kenneth J. Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948. (New York: American Geographical Society, 1971) 296-97

[2] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948, 290

[3] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica, 292

[4] Antarctica, 2nd ed., s.v. “Conquest by Air.” (Surry Hills: Reader’s Digest, 1990)

[5] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica, 292

[6] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica, 300

[7] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica, 300

[8] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica, 300

[9] Antarctica, “Conquest by Air”

[10] Encyclopedia of the Antarctic., s.v. “United States (Byrd) Antarctic Expedition (1928-1930)” (New York: Routledge, 2007)

[11] Encyclopedia of the Antarctic, “United States (Byrd) Antarctic Expedition (1928-1930)”

[12] Encyclopedia of the Antarctic, “United States (Byrd) Antarctic Expedition (1928-1930)”

[13] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica, 297

[14] Paul A. Carter, Little America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979) 101

[15] Carter, Little America, 101

[16] Antarctica, “Conquest by Air”

[17] William James Mills, “Ross Ice Shelf Antarctica,” Exploring Polar Frontiers, (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003).

[18] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948, 292

[19] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948, 290

[20] Bertrand, Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948, 290

[21] On the Current Location of the Byrd “Snow Cruiser” and Other Artifacts from Little America I, II, III and Framheim,” Taylor and Francis Online, Accessed January 26, 2016,