American Experience

Would you like to build a ⛄️?

I’m guessing this was not one of the questions Arctic explorer Robert Peary asked his fellow explorers as they reached the North Pole for the first time. But I have to say, the idea of a snowball fight in the midst of the 90+ degree humid summer heat in the D.C. area does sound like a welcomed respite. I almost pulled over for an ice cream truck near my house this weekend. The snowcone craving at eleven in the morning was real.

To help bring a chill into your life, we have devoted a week to some cooler items in the National Archives holdings. We are talking sled dogs, polar exploration, and of course, ice cream. When we think about U.S. history and explorers, it is easy to think Lewis and Clark. But exploring the globe went beyond our borders and it is easy to become captivated by the efforts to reach the North and South poles. Let’s not forget these groups survived against all odds––without Gor-Tex jackets with superwarm linings, satellite communications, or laptops and smartphones.

The Arctic and Antarctic were considered the last great frontiers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Explorers mounted expeditions to discover the Polar Regions, taking along surveyors, scientists and artists for months and even year-long expeditions. The work undertaken by explorers resulted in scientific advances, increased geographic knowledge and improved survival techniques and technologies.

So turn down your air conditioning and bundle up for some ❄️ stories from the National Archives.

Frosty Madden
Executive Director
National Archives Foundation


The Pole at Last

Arctic explorer Robert Peary became famous for reaching the North Pole in his historic 1909 expedition. Less well-known, however, is his right-hand man and friend of 20 years, Matthew Henson. Henson was the first African American polar explorer, and an integral part of the North Pole expedition, taking on the role of navigator, driver, craftsman and translator. He was even the first person to physically reach the spot of the North Pole (brrr!). Henson’s achievements went unacknowledged outside of the African American community until nearly 30 years after they returned home, when he was invited to join the Explorers Club and was awarded a US Navy medal.

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Chilling Adventures

Louise Arner Boyd’s interest was sparked in polar exploration in 1926, when, in addition to 11 polar bears, she captured valuable scientific information about arctic ice. She would go on to self-finance six more expeditions (including searching for missing explorer Roald Amundsen), publish three books of photographs, and charter the first private flyover of the North Pole. Most of her time in the arctic can be seen through her self-made films that are now housed in the Center for Polar Archives.


A Frigid Courtroom

Perhaps the coldest war of all occurred in the summer of 1925, between the inventors of the Popsicle and the Good Humor Bar. Both gentlemen claimed to be the original creator of ice dessert on a stick. After a lengthy legal battle, the court decided that Popsicle Corporation would have the rights to water ices on a stick, while Good Humor Corporation would have the rights to ice cream on a stick. There would be peace in the frozen treat market once again. That is, until Popsicle Corporation dipped their popsicle sticks in “ice milk.” Cue another battle of the frozen treats!


Officers (and Dogs) Reporting for Duty

The U.S. Navy has a long history in groundbreaking polar exploration. As early as 1839, Captain Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. naval expedition into Antarctic waters. In the early 1900s, Admiral Richard E. Byrd established an Antarctic naval base known as Little America I and conducted the first flight over the South Pole. On Byrd’s third Antarctic voyage, the goal was exploration and the establishment of U.S. bases in Antarctica. Accompanying Byrd and his crew, a fearless team of sled dogs made the trek in the name of the U.S. Navy.

Arctic exploration depended heavily on dog sled teams and Byrd had specific requirements for the dogs. In fact, there are more than twenty-five communications solely about acquiring the right sort of dog, the numbers, their names, leader experience, weight and gender!


Last Week and More

We want to bring the Archives to you. If you missed last week or our content in the past, have no fear! We’ve collected everything we’ve dug up from holdings. Click on an icon below to learn more!

  • We the People
  • History Pix
  • Archives Encore
  • History Quirks
  • Patent Pending
  • Cooking Club

Live Interactive Programming

While the National Archives has remained closed, the National Archives Foundation has begun hosting a variety of live programming including interviews with historians and authors as well as a celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Check out our past programs below and stay tuned for upcoming adventures in history!


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