ANTARCTIC FIRSTS

An eclectic collection of Antarctic 'firsts' arranged by date. Some conflicting information needs to be resolved and some dates and details may be open to question.

Launched: 15 June 2003. Last updated: 11 September 2021

Sources: Stewart = Antarctica; An Encyclopeda John Stwart, 2nd. edition.


First time the word 'penguin' is used to describe the southern bird. (1586-1588). Occurred on the third circumnavigation of the world by Thomas Cavendish in the Desire. Source: Gurney, Below the Convergence; Voyages toward Antarctica 1699-1839.

First drawing of an Antarctic tabular iceberg. (February 1700). Appeared in the logbook of Edmond Halley's ship Paramore.

First to cross the Antarctic Circle. (January 17, 1773). Captain James Cook on his second voyage in the Resolution and Discovery. Crossed a total of three times during that voyage. In doing so, Cook was the first to circumnavigate Antarctica.

Possibly the first to die in Antarctica, the Spanish officers, soldiers and seamen on board the San Telmo which sank in September 1819. There is a cairn commemorating this at Half Moon Beach, Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands.

First to sight Antarctic continent. (January 27, 1820). Captain Thaddeus Bellingshausen in the Vostok and Mirnyy. Reached 69° 21'S, 2° 14'W saw an "icefield covered with small hillocks."

First to chart any of the Antarctic continent (Trinity Land). (January 30, 1820). Edward Bransfield and William Smith in the Williams.

First known landing on Antarctic continent. (February 7, 1821). Capt. John Davis in the Cecilia lands at Hughes Bay, Antarctic Peninsula.

First recorded Antarctic winter spent on land. (1821). Eleven men of the Lord Melville, a sealer, on King George Island, South Shetlands. Source: Gurney, Below the Convergence; Voyages toward Antarctica 1699-1839.

First scientist to work in Antarctica. William H.B. Webster sailed aboard the Chanticleer to South Shetlands to make pendulum and magnetic observations. Entered Deception Island on January 9, 1829.

First fossils found in Antarctica. (1830). Found by James Eights, Palmer-Pendleton expedition, South Shetlands. Source: Baughman, Pilgrims on the Ice, p.314.

First sighting of the Antarctic continent in the Indian Ocean sector (Enderby Land). (February 24, 1831). John Biscoe, in the Tula and Lively.

First to confirm that a great mass of land did exist in the Antarctic. (1830-1831). John Biscoe, in the Tula and Lively.

First landing south of the Antarctic Circle. (February 9, 1839). Captain John Balleny and Thomas Freeman in the Eliza Scott and the Sabrina. Discovered and landed on the Balleny Islands. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, p. 176.

First US expedition to include Antarctica. (1838-1842). United States Exploring Expedition under Lt. Charles Wilkes.

First dog known to have been in the Antarctic. (1839). 'Sydney,' a dog picked up in Australia by Lt. Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition.

First ever to enter the Ross Sea. (January 9, 1841). Sir James Clark Ross in the ships Erebus and Terror.

First ever fancy dress ball in Antarctica. (December 31, 1841). New Years Eve during Sir James Clark Ross's expedition.

First fish caught below the Antarctic Circle. (February 1842). Landed on the Terror during Ross's expedition. The ship's cat found it and made a meal of it.

First landing on Greater Antarctica (Victoria Land). (January 26, 1853). Mercator Cooper in the Levant out of Sag Harbor, New York.

First expedition to the Antarctic whose aims were solely scientific. (1872-1876). Challenger expedition, under Captain Sir George Nares and Wyville Thomson, sponsored by the Royal Society.

First steamship to cross the Antarctic Circle. (February 16, 1874). Challenger expedition, under Captain Sir George Nares and Wyville Thomson, sponsored by the Royal Society.

First photographs taken of Antarctic icebergs. (1874). Challenger expedition, under Captain Sir George Nares and Wyville Thomson, sponsored by the Royal Society.

First steamship to reach the coast of Antarctica. (1873-1874). German whaling expedition under Captain Eduard Dallmann in the Grönland..

First fossils found in the Antarctic. (1830). Found by James Eights, Palmer-Pendleton expedition.

First vegetation (lichens) found below the Antarctic Circle. (January 18, 1895). Found by Carsten Borchgrevink on Possession Island during the Bull expedition in the Antarctic.

First substantiated landing on Antarctic continent proper. (January 24, 1895). Carsten Borchgrevink and two others all claim to have been the first to step ashore, at Cape Adare during the Bull expedition in the Antarctic.

First scientific vessel to visit the Antarctic continent itself. (1897-1899). Belgica (formerly Patria) under Adrien de Gerlache during the Belgian Antarctic Belgica expedition.

First insect discovered in Antarctica. (January 24, 1898). Discovered on Moreno Island by Arctowski during the Belgian Antarctic Belgica expedition. Christened Belgica antarctica.

First man to ski in Antarctica. (January 26, 1898). Roald Amundsen on Two Hummock Island during the Belgian Antarctic Belgica expedition. [May have occurred during Carl Anton Larsen expedition (1892-1893) in the Jason. Headland in his Chronology says it occured during the 1893-94 Norwegian expedition that included Carl Anton Larsen.]

First sledge journey in Antarctica. (January 31, 1898). De Gerlache, Amundsen, Cook, Arctowski and Danco on Brabant Island during the Belgian Antarctic Belgica expedition. Source: Sancton, Madhouse at the End of the Earth, p.107.

First to spend a full winter so far south (below 60 degrees). (1897-1899). Belgian Antarctic Belgica expedition.

First American to cross both polar circles, Frederick Cook. (1897-1899). Belgian Antarctic Belgica expedition. Source: Sancton, Madhouse at the End of the Earth, p.49.

First to use of Primus stoves in the Antarctic. (1898-1900). Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First accidental fire reported in the Antarctic. (1898-1900). Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, p. 28.

First time dogs were used on the Antarctic continent. (1898-1900). Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First deliberate wintering-over in Antarctica. (1899-1900). At Cape Adare during Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First Australian to winter-over in Antarctica: Louis Bernacchi (1899). Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First "cinematograph" (movies?) taken in Antarctica. (April 1899). Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First human earth burial in the Antarctic. (October 14, 1899). Nicolai Hansen buried above Cape Adare; grave was "dug" with dynamite. Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First sledge journey on Ross Ice Shelf. (February 16, 1900). Party sledged 10 miles to new 'Furthest South'. Southern Cross expedition under Carsten Borchgrevink.

First to winter over on the Peninsula. (1901-1904). At Snow Hill Island during Swedish South Polar expedition under Otto Nordenskjöld aboard the Antarctic.

First real land expedition in the Antarctic. (1901-1904). British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott aboard the Discovery.

First balloon ascent in Antarctica. (February 4, 1902). Eva was name of balloon. British National Antarctic (Discovery) expedition under Robert F. Scott.

First Antarctic aerial photography. (February 4, 1902). Taken by Shackleton from the balloon Eva. British National Antarctic (Discovery) expedition under Robert F. Scott.

First broken leg from skiing in the Antarctic. (February 17, 1902). Suffered by Chief Steward Reginald Ford. British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Discovery.

First crops (mustard and cress) grown in the Antarctic. (October 1902). British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Discovery.

First harvest of first crops grown in the Antarctic. (November 1, 1902). British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Discovery.

First man to walk on the polar plateau. (January 1903). Albert B. Armitage, leader of the Western Party. British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Discovery.

First surgical operation performed in Antarctica. (October 18, 1903). Dr.Koettlitz removes cyst from Lt. Royds' cheek. British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Discovery. Source: Bernacchi, Saga of Discovery, p.51.

First fossils found on Antarctic continent. (1903). Found by Hartley Ferrar. British National Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Discovery.

First moving pictures taken in the Antarctic. (1902-1904). Scottish National Antarctic expedition under William Speirs Bruce in the Scotia. Also attributed to Eric Marshall during Shackleton's Nimrod expedition, 1907-09. [See above, April 1899.]

First expedition to record sound, on a phonograph. (1902-1904). Scottish National Antarctic expedition under William Speirs Bruce in the Scotia.

First permanent scientific station to be established in the Antarctic, at Laurie Island, South Orkneys. (1902-1904). Scottish National Antarctic expedition under William Speirs Bruce in the Scotia. Michael Smith, James Wordie Polar Crusader, p.125.

First bagpipe concert in Antarctica. (March 10, 1904). Gilbert Kerr, in kilt, plays to Emperor penguin. Scottish National Antarctic expedition under William Speirs Bruce in the Scotia.

First steel vessel to cross the Antarctic Circle, the Koonya with the Nimrod in tow (January 1908). British Antarctic expedition under Ernest H. Shackleton. Source: Mill, Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton p. 116.

First automobile in Antarctica lowered onto ice. (February 1, 1908). British Antarctic expedition under Ernest H. Shackleton in the Nimrod.

First instance of printing from set type on the Antarctic continent. (Issued June 23, 1908). Menu for the Midwinter Celebration at Winter Quarters, Cape Royds. British Antarctic expedition under Ernest H. Shackleton in the Nimrod.

First evidence of coal found in Antarctica, discovered by Frank Wild. (December 17, 1908). British Antarctic expedition under Ernest H. Shackleton in the Nimrod. Source: Shackleton, Heart of the Antarctic, Vol 1, p327.

First book—Aurora Australis—produced (writen, edited, illustrated, printed, bound and issued) in the Antarctic. (Issued July 1908). British Antarctic expedition under Ernest H. Shackleton in the Nimrod.

First soldier to join a British polar expedition, Captain L. E. G. Oates. (1910-1913). British Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Terra Nova. Source: Ran Fiennes, Captain Scott, p.173.

First professional photographer in the Antarctic, Herbert G. Ponting. (1910-1913). British Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Terra Nova.

First Antarctic land-line telephone installed, linking Cape Evans and Hut Point. (1910-1913). British Antarctic expedition under Robert F. Scott in the Terra Nova.

First to reach South Pole. (December 14, 1911). Norwegian Antarctic expedition under Roald Amundsen in the Fram. Polar party: Amundsen, Bjaaland, Hassel, Hanssen and Wisting. Olav Bjaaland probably first to actually stand at the Pole.

First expedition to have radio. (1911-1914). Australasian Antarctic expedition under Douglas Mawson in the Aurora.

First expedition to take an airplane. (1911-1914). Australasian Antarctic expedition under Douglas Mawson. Plane never flew as it crashed before leaving; wings were removed and it was used as an "aero-tractor".

First radio contact between Antarctica and another continent. (September 25, 1912). Australasian Antarctic Expedition under Douglas Mawson. Initially radios could transmit but not receive; on 2/1913 two-way communication established.

First Antarctic meteorite found, by Francis Bickerton, Leslie Whetter and A.J. Hodegman. (December 5, 1912). Australasian Antarctic expedition under Douglas Mawson.

First ordained clergyman to set foot on the Antarctic continent (Cape Evans), Arnold P. Spencer-Smith. (January 17?, 1915). Ross Sea Party, Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition in the Aurora. Source: Huntford, Shackleton, pp 412-13.

First Antarctic flight. (November 16, 1928). Wilkins-Hearst expedition under Hubert Wilkins. Flight in the Los Angeles by Wilkins and Carl Ben Eielson was 20 minutes at Deception Island. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, p. 169.

First flight over Antarctic continent. (December 20, 1928). Wilkins-Hearst expedition under Hubert Wilkins. Flew over Graham Land from Deception Island.

First airplane to take off from or land on Antarctic continent, Stars and Stripes, a Fairchild folding wing monoplane. (January 15, 1929). Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd. [See http://www.antarctic-circle.org/E55.htm]

First flight over South Pole. (November 29, 1929). Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd. Aircraft Floyd Bennett with Byrd, Balchen, June and McKinley.

First men to die in an aircraft accident in the Antarctic. (December 26, 1929). Norwegians Leif Lier & Ingvald Schreiner died when their airplane disappeared during a flight from the whaling factory ship Kosmos. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, photo caption after p. 158.

First winter circumnavigation of Antarctica. (1932). Discovery II, Stanley Kemp, Captain.

First seismic observations in the Antarctic. (1933-1935). Second Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd.

First dairy cows in Antarctica. (1933-1935). Second Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd. [See http://www.antarctic-circle.org/E07.htm]

First man to winter over alone, Richard E. Byrd. (March 28 - August 10, 1934). Second Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd.

First human voice radio broadcast from Antarctic continent. (1933-1935). Second Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd.

First cosmic ray observations. (1933-1935). Second Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd.

First woman to set foot on the Antarctic mainland, Caroline Mikkelsen. (February 20, 1935).

First flight across Antarctica. (Departing November 23, 1935). Lincoln Ellsworth and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon in aircraft Polar Star from Dundee Island to near Little America II, 2300 miles in six stages over two weeks.

First African-American in Antarctica, George W. Gibbs, Jr. (1940). Third Byrd Antarctic expedition under Richard E. Byrd. [Almost certainly there were African-American sealers in the South Shetlands in the 1820s.] Source: Associated Press and Rochester Post-Bulletin. See 'Obituaries'.

First use of of helicopters and icebreakers. (1946-1947). Fourth Byrd expedition (Operation Highjump).

First American ship, the Burton Island, to enter McMurdo Sound (1947).

First helicopter to land at Hut Point (15 February 1947).

First American landing at future McMurdo Station site (15 February 1947).

First fatality in the Antarctic as a result of a vehicle accident. (January 21, 1947). Fourth Byrd expedition (Operation Highjump). Vance Woodall killed when he was caught in the slats of his Caterpillar D6 tractor. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, p. 110.

First American style football game played in Antarctica (February 1947).

First Antarctic expedition to include women. (1947-1948). Ronne Antarctic Research expedition under Finn Ronne. Jennie Darlington and Edith (Jackie) Ronne wintered over.

First fatal fire in the Antarctic. (November 9, 1948). Eagle House, Hope Bay, during Operation Tabarin. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, p.30.

First truly international expedition to the Antarctic continent (1949-1952). Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic expediton. Source: Michael Smith, James Wordie Polar Crusader.

First man to ride a motorcycle in the Antarctic. (1951). Charles Swithinbank was the first man to ride a motorcycle in the Antarctic during the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic expediton. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, p. 124.

First Head of State to visit the Antarctic, Gabriel Gonzales Videla of Chile, in 1950.

First airplane to land at South Pole. (October 31, 1956). Operation Deep Freeze II under Admiral John Dufek. Aircraft Que Sera Sera (an R4D) lands at South Pole, piloted by Conrad Shinn.

First commercial flight to the Antarctic continent. (October 15, 1957). The two stewardesses—Ruth Kelley and Pat Heppinstall—became the first women ever to visit a U. S. Antarctic base.

First successful land traverse of Antarctica. (November 24, 1957 - March 2, 1958). British Commonwealth Transantarctic expedition under Vivian Fuchs. Weddell Sea to Ross Sea via the Pole.

First Frenchman to die in the Antarctic. (January 7, 1959). André Prud'homme left the living quarters of Dumont D'Urville Station to undertake meteorological observations and was never seen again. Source: Stephen Haddelsey, Icy Graves, photo caption after p. 205.

First person to have been at the both the North and the South Pole. Bert Crary was at the North Pole in 1952 and at the South Pole on February 12, 1961.

First recorded birth of any species at the South Pole. (March 14, 1961). Pandora the hamster gave birth to twins at South Pole Station.

First nocturnal flight and landing in Antarctica, US mission to take Leonid Kuperov from Byrd Station for medical treatment. (April 9, 1961).

First helicopters to fly to the South Pole. (February 4, 1964). Three UH-1B turbo-powered Iroquois helos from Mount Weaver.

First winter flight and landing in Antarctica, US mission to take the injured Fire Chief from McMurdo to Christchurch for medical treatment. (June 26, 1964). Noted in an article in 'Antarctic,' the magazine of the NZ Antarctic Society, issue 229. It refers to the April 9, 1961 flight (above) which wasn't technically "winter."

First human birth on Antarctic continent, Emilio Marcos de Palma born at Esperanza Station. (January 7, 1978). Source: Stewart

First South Pole Marathon. (April 20, 1981). Run by Dr. Chuck Huss on a treadmill in Biomed.

First bank opens. (summer 1984-85). The first bank opened at Villa la Estrellas, at Frei Station, on King George Island, a branch of the Chilean Banco de Crédito y Inversiones. Soure: Stewart, p.115.

First recorded wedding at the South Pole. (February 11, 1985). Patricia Manglicmot and Randall Chambers were married at South Pole station. (Thanks to Bill-Ace Baker via John Splettstoesser.)

First women to reach the South Pole by land, Victoria E. Murden and Shirley Metz. (January 17, 1989).


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