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Navy Station 1956

South Pole Station 1956

"We were like men who had been fired off in rockets to take up life on another planet. We were in a lifeless, and almost featureless world. However snug and comfortable we might make ourselves, we could not escape from our isolation. We were now face to face with raw nature so grim and stark, that our lives could be snuffed out in a matter of minutes. Every day would bring us new problems to solve and our ingenuity would be taxed over and over again. And all this to carry out a somewhat difficult fragment of the worldwide scientific program of the International Geophysical Year. The men took up residence to conduct a variety of investigations as part of the 1956-57 International Geophysical Year (IGY) research program."

So wrote Paul Siple in "Living at the Pole", his memoir of the first winter ever spent by man at the southern extremity of the world.
Under the joint leadership of Siple and Lt. John Tuck, a naval officer, 18 men spent the first winter at the South Pole in a station built by the U.S. Navy in the austral summer of 1956-57 using cargo dropped by U.S. Air Force planes. On Jan. 23 1957, an offical dedication ceremony for the South Pole station was held at McMurdo Station with speeches, marines in full dress uniforms, and a radio proclamation from President Eisenhower.


South Pole Station 1956
U.S. Navy Seabees built the 1957 station, and artists recorded the activity
The men took up residence to conduct a year of investigations as part of the 1956-57 International Geophysical Year (IGY) research program.
Siple, Tuck and the 16 other 'winterovers' were the first people in history to witness sunset and sunrise at the South Pole, events that are separated in Antarctica by six months of darkness and almost unimaginable cold. In the depths of the austral winter at the station, the temperature dropped to -77.2 Celsius (-107 Fahrenheit) on Sept. 18, 1957, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth at the time.
These men laid the foundation for the scientific legacy that continues into the 21st century, as the National Science Foundation dedicates the third permanent station at the South Pole in 2007.

Born in 1908, Siple — a biologist — was no stranger to Antarctica. In 1928 at the age of 19, Siple — an Eagle Scout and a representative for the Boy Scouts of America — would join the expedition of Adm. Richard E. Byrd to the pole. He spent many of his intervening years in the Polar Regions, eventually as the director of scientific projects for Operation Deep Freeze during the 1955-56 season, which laid the logistical groundwork for the existing system of U.S. scientific stations in Antarctica.
Siple and Tuck and their wintering group were not only the first to face the daunting isolation of a winter at the bottom of the world, but their scientific accomplishments provided a vital link in what otherwise would have been a 3,000 kilometer (1,800 mile) gap between IGY stations.
South Pole station was the first inland weather station in Antarctica, with weather balloons being sent aloft every 12 hours. The South Pole seismograph was unique among the 16 IGY seismic stations, sitting as it did atop the miles-thick continental ice sheet. Samples also were taken to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. The scientific legacy of that first winter spent by Siple and Tuck and the others lives on because subsequent atmospheric and seismic instruments at the pole have produced some of the longest continuous measurements of natural phenomena in existence.
"When I had first considered going to the pole," Siple wrote, "I had questioned how much scientific work would actually be accomplished. I had felt it would require almost all the combined efforts of the stations' personnel merely to stay alive. So it was gratifying that, as things turned out, the results of our scientific endeavors were of a reasonably high order."
The quality of the IGY observations at South Pole and other Antarctic stations was enough to persuade the United States and other nations to continue their scientific programs in Antarctica. In 1961, the original station was officially named Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, to honor the early Polar explorers and stress the international nature of Antarctic research.
The original station was last occupied in 1975 during the transition to the current Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, under the iconic geodesic dome. The original station now lies buried, being crushed by the enormous pressure exerted by the ice sheet of the Polar Plateau.
Siple did not live to see the new station open. He died of a heart attack at his desk in 1968, at the age of 59.


Navy Station 1956 Photo Gallery

  • Rare SnowfallThe ice sheet below the South Pole is nearly two miles thick. It is formed over centuries as snowfall from clouds such those shown in this 1960 photo is gradually compacted and squeezed into ice.
    Credit: U.S. Navy, NAVFAC Archives
  • 50 Years AgoThis picture shows an aerial view of the first permanent station the the South Pole. The U.S. Navy was tasked with building seven stations, including this one, in support of the International Geophysical Year 1957. This photo was taken on Dec. 4, 1956.
    Credit: Dick Prescott, NSF
  • First LandingThis C-47 (DC-3) airplane was the first to land at the South Pole, Oct. 31, 1956. To read more about this historic flight, read the Nov. 28, 2004 issue of The Antarctic Sun at
    Credit: Dave Grisez, NSF
  • Construction CrewThis photo shows the U.S. Navy Seabees who built the first South Pole station. Work was completed in late December of 1956. Standing at far left is Dr. Paul Siple, a civilian who served as chief scientist at the Pole during the International Geophysical Year 1957-58. Standing at far right is Navy Lt. JG Richard Bowers, the officer in charge of construction. The shadow of the South Pole marker can be seen in the center.
    Credit: US Navy, NSF
  • Construction CampThe U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (Special) Task Force 43 lived in tents while building the first permanent station at the South Pole. This photo was taken in December of 1956.
    Credit: Dick Prescott, NSF
  • Supply DropA U.S. Air Force C-124 Cargo plane airdrops lumber to U.S. Navy Seabees at the South Pole in December 1956.
    Credit: Dick Prescott, NSF
  • Weasel at WorkA military vehicle called a Weasel pulls air-drop cargo at South Pole station base camo, November 1956. The Weasel was a heavy-duty device with tank treads, designed to operate in snow, mud or deep water.
    Credit: US Navy photographs, NAVFAC Archives
  • Raising the FlagDr. Paul Siple, chief scientist at the South Pole during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, displays a personal flag at the original ceremonial pole. The pole bore the signatures of the Seabees who built the first permanent South Pole station.
    Credit: Dick Prescott, NSF
  • Jamesway HutJamesway huts - large canvas covered dwellings similar in shape to the familiar military Quonset huts - were used as sleeping areas and shelters at the first South Pole station. This photo was taken in November of 1956.
    Credit: US Navy, NAVFAC Archives
  • Nearly BuiltJamesway huts - large canvas covered dwellings similar in shape to the familiar military Quonset huts - were used as sleeping areas and shelters at the first South Pole station. This photo was taken in November of 1956.
    Credit: Dick Prescott, NSF
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