Richard E. Byrd: The Last Explorer
Richard E. Byrd became famous for his daring exploits and was known all over the world. He was a national and international celebrity revered by the American public on the same level as Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. Overcoming a fear of flying, Byrd flew in the most treacherous of conditions. He was thought to be the first man to fly over the North Pole, then repeated the feat by flying over the South Pole, while having led the first expedition to Antarctica encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. Byrd was clearly a man of his time, worshiped during a period when American society hungered for heros. Byrd was no fool and knew how to generate publicity for himself which didn't detract from his courage or his many achievements. Dogged by rumours throughout his career, Byrd turned back his detractors by his actions. Ultimately, however, the world moved on, there were no exotic places left to explore and Byrd became a forgotten man.
Curriculum Links: Richard E. Byrd: The Last American Explorer is appropriate for the following curriculum areas: History, Social Studies, Geography, Science, Language Arts, and Media Studies for grades 5-12.
1. Understand social and political conditions in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.
2. Determine why Richard Byrd captured the public's imagination.
3. Decide what constitutes a hero or heroine.
4. Explore the geography of the Arctic and Antarctic.
5. Critically assess Byrd's legacy to the world.
6. Enhance socialization by working in teams.
1. After completing his flight over the North Pole, Byrd was hailed as a hero and given his first ticker tape parade in New York City. Afterward, some aviation experts doubted his claims. Do you think he actually flew over the North Pole? Do you think he intended to cheat? If so, why? What do you think happened. Base your discussion on the interviews in BIOGRAPHY.
Byrd went to naval flight school and specialized in navigation. Part of his duties involved the investigation of air crashes. This work caused him to develop a fear of flying. The expeditions Byrd undertook involved long flights in very dangerous conditions. It has been stated that Byrd confronted his fear by drinking alcohol during these flights. Do you think this was the right thing to do? Was there anything else Byrd might have done to conquer that fear?
After Byrd became an international celebrity, he received a tremendous amount of attention. What role do you think image played in the development of his status as a celebrity? (As an example, if he had a crooked nose and missing teeth, would he have been as celebrated?)
Charles Lindbergh was the first to undertake a solo flight across the Atlantic. Ironically, Byrd had wanted to do the same. Some six weeks after Lindbergh, Byrd and a crew also flew across the Atlantic. Why do you think Byrd did this? What were his reasons? How was he treated once he arrived in France?
Describe the look of Antarctica. Is it a hospitable place? What do you think motivated Byrd to go there? What did he wish to accomplish?
After Byrd completed his flight over the South Pole in 1929, President Hoover promoted him to Rear Admiral. What was the reaction of his colleagues in the Navy? Why do you think they reacted in the way they did?
Describe the social conditions in the United States during the 1920s. How did these conditions help Byrd with his exploits and in the development of his image?
The social conditions of the 1930s were very different from those in the decade before. Describe the differences between the 1920s and the 1930s. Ironically, Byrd's celebrity wasn't dulled at all. Why do you think that happened?
Describe the conditions in the base camp of "Little America" during the first Antarctic expedition? Why do you think the men behaved the way they did?
During the second expedition to the Antarctic, Byrd isolated himself in a forward camp some 100 miles from the main base. Why do you think he did that? What was the point? What happened in the end? What effect did this incident have on Byrd later on in his life?
Document in a report, then show Byrd's route as he flew over either the South or North Pole. You'll need to draw a map of either Pole in order to complete the work.
On this first expedition to the South Pole, Byrd took a camera crew and a reporter from the New York Times with him. Why do you think he did this? Wasn't it only to document what he was doing or was there another reason? You are that New York Times reporter, keep a log of your experiences and file a week's worth of stories to your editor in New York. Describe the events that you have witnessed.
Byrd also recreated his expeditions for the movies in Hollywood. In point of fact, he was a media star. What role do you think the media played in contributing to Byrd's celebrity? Do you think he used the media and if so, how? Write a brief report. Then pretend you are Byrd addressing the crowd in New York City after a ticker tape parade. Write your own speech as Byrd and present it to your classmates.
Byrd's expeditions had to be privately funded which meant he had to raise money on his own. Break off into groups and develop a promotional campaign for Byrd's expedition to the Antarctic. Decide on a slogan, target audience and what media you will use to promote this noble cause to the public. Create your promotional materials and present the campaign to other members of the class.