Byrd Expedition

The following post comes from guest blogger Robyn Dexter, Archivist at the National Archives at Anchorage.

Rear Admiral Richard Byrd was born in 1888, part of a prominent Virginia family. His commission in the Navy enabled him to pioneer developments in aviation, learning to fly during WWI. Byrd was instrumental in developing new technologies, such as open-water flight, sea-plane night landings, and worked to develop the Navy’s role in trans-Atlantic crossings. He also harbored a passion for exploration.

The United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941), or “Byrd’s Third Antarctic Expedition” was backed by government agencies such as the Navy, State Department, and Departments of the Interior and Treasury. The goal of the voyage was exploration, and the establishment of US bases in Antarctica.

As with any large-scale expedition, there was a great deal of planning. With the unique requirements of the Arctic, those get even more stringent. Add in people’s individual peculiarities, and the selection becomes very narrow. That is evidenced in the below documents, taken from RG 75, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Juneau Area Office, by the Alaska Reindeer Service,  out of series Correspondence Relating to Sales 1934 – 1953. Byrd, on his third expedition, knew the Arctic still depended on dog sled teams and had specific requirements for the dogs, shown in the telegrams. More than twenty-five communications solely involve the acquisition of exactly the right sort of dog, the numbers, their names, leader experience, weight and gender.  Also in the file is a letter from Byrd to Ernest Gruening, asking him to thank the many Alaskans involved in outfitting him and his team.

26 Oct, 1939, a letter from Finne Ronne to Rood, thanking him for the fine selection of dogs. “Much work is expected from these dogs, and they will, no doubt, be the ‘main brace’ to depend upon for doing the field work”.


25 July, 1939, telegram from Sidney Rood, with absolute mandates regarding the dogs’ breed and size. “…Alaskan Malamute males eighty pounds females seventy pounds to have no trace of Saint Bernard Newfoundland Dane or other breeds”.
2 Aug, 1939, “Thirteen male dogs meeting specifications available. Stop. Females thin summer condition now run about sixty pounds…”

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