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Polar Exploration: Primary Sources in the Manuscript Division

A Brief Timeline of Polar Exploration

Below is a selected timeline highlighting exploration and expeditions to Arctic regions in the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. This timeline has been created using information located in the findings aids from related collections in the Library's Manuscript Division.


American Naval officer and explorer Charles Wilkes commands an expedition to the Antarctic, islands of the Pacific Ocean, and the American northwest coast.


Explorer, author, journalist, and lecturer George Kennan explores the Caucasus region of the Russian Empire.


First Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely leads the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition that sets off to Greenland to establish a station for scientific observation.


U.S. Naval officer and explorer Robert Peary obtains leave from the U.S. Navy Civil Engineers Corps to explore the Greenland ice cap.


Physician and explorer Frederick A. Cook serves as surgeon and ethnologist for the North Greenland expedition led by Peary.


Frederick A. Cook leads an expedition to Greenland aboard the Zeta.


The Wellman Polar Expedition sets off to Franz Josef Land, off the coast of northern Russia. Explorer Evelyn Briggs-Baldwin is second-in-command and meteorologist.


Evelyn Briggs-Baldwin leads the Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition, funded by William Ziegler, the president of the Royal Baking Powder Company.


William Ziegler chooses Anthony Fiala, who was the photographer of the 1901 Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition, to lead the 1903 Ziegler Polar Expedition.

Anthony Fiala, photographer. 82 ̊N. Lat. March 1905. Panoramic Photographs. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Frederick A. Cook claims attainment of the summit of Mount McKinley, Alaska.


Frederick A. Cook sails from Gloucester, Massachusetts for Greenland aboard the John R. Bradley in preparation for a polar expedition.


On September 1, 1909, Frederick A. Cook claims to have reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908. A few days later, on September 6, 1909, Robert E. Peary claims to have reached the North Pole on April 6, 1908.


Explorer and cinematographer, Lewis Varick Frissell, produces the film Great Arctic Seal Hunt, also known as The Swilin' Racket (released 1928), from footage that was shot during a seven week voyage to Newfoundland aboard the SS Beothic.


Mechanic Bernt Balchen pilots the first flight over the South Pole for Richard Evelyn Byrd.

The Fokker monoplane in which Bernt Balchen, Lt. June, and Professor Gould were forced down in the unknown wastes of Antarctica while they were on a scientific flight. c.1929 April. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Bernt Balchen acts as chief pilot for the Lincoln Ellsworth Antarctic expedition.


Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd organizes and finances the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition.


Explorer and engineer Lincoln Ellsworth completes a flight over Antarctica, claiming thousands of miles for the United States.


The U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition begins its journey at Marguerite Bay on Stonington Island.


The first United States Navy Deep Freeze expedition to Antarctica begins.


The Rockwell International Corporation sponsors the first flight across both poles.