On January 23 at noon, Sheldon Bart delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole.”
In the age of adventure, when dirigibles coasted through the air and vast swaths of the earth remained untouched and unseen by man, one pack of relentless explorers competed in the race of a lifetime: to be the first aviator to fly over the North Pole. The main players in this high stakes game were Richard Byrd, a dashing navy officer and early aviation pioneer; and Roald Amundsen, a bitter rival of Byrd’s and a hardened veteran of polar expeditions. Each man was determined to be the first to fly over the North Pole, despite brutal weather conditions, financial disasters, world wars, and their own personal demons. Byrd and Amundsen’s epic struggle for air primacy ended in a Homeric episode, in which one man had to fly to the rescue of his downed nemesis and left behind an enduring mystery: who was the first man to fly over the North Pole?
Sheldon Bart, an authority on polar pioneer Admiral Richard E. Byrd, is the president and founder of the Wilderness Research Foundation and a member of the board of governors of the American Polar Society.