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Polar Mail

Many children in the United States write letters addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole each year. But how many of you have written to scientists living at the South Pole?

On December 14th, 1911 the South Pole was discovered by Captain Roald Amundsen of Norway and his team of Antarctic explorers.

For centuries explorers had skirted and scouted the perimeter of the Antarctic; however, there was something of a race to reach the South Pole in the early 1910s. Captain Robert Scott of England and Captain Amundsen of Norway both set out with expedition teams in 1911 to be the first to claim the South Pole. The Amundsen party was focused on the goal of discovery. The Scott expedition had a broader mission that included scientific research. Amundsen reached the Pole first on December 14th, and successfully made the journey back to his base camp on the Bay of Whales in the Ross Sea. Scott’s larger party broke up, sending five members onward to the Pole as the rest of the team headed back to their base camp on Ross Island in the Ross Sea. Scott’s party reached the Pole on January 17, 1912, 33 days after Amundsen’s. Scott’s group met with even greater misfortune as their food and fuel supplies ran out, leaving the small party to perish.

International exploration of Antarctica continued throughout the following decades, with some nations continuing to set up temporary bases to support expeditions. The National Postal Museum has in its collection a safe for stamps, money orders, and other valuable materials that was used at one of these bases (Little America, South Pole, for the Second Antarctic Expedition of Rear Admiral Richard Byrd).

Continuously since November 1956, American scientists have lived and worked at research stations in Antarctica. The three permanent stations maintained by the National Science Foundation carry out research for the U.S. Antarctic Program in support of the Antarctic Treaty. Including the three US stations, there are 42 permanent research stations established by the 30 countries that have agreed to the Antarctic Treaty.—Cassie Mancer and Beverly Coward

How to write to the South Pole:

The National Science Foundation has set up a system to support a limited amount of philatelic mail for collectors interested in receiving mail postmarked from Antarctica. They have imposed a strict limit of two covers [self-addressed stamped envelopes] per person per station per year. Please follow the instructions detailed here:

Philatelic Mail Clerk

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica

PSC 468 Box 400

APO AP 96598

NSF Piuk JAN1_2009_BPhotograph by Reinhart Piuk courtesy of the National Science Foundation, Antarctic Photo Library. Because the ice shifts approximately 33 feet (10meters) each year, the marker designating the location of the geographic South Pole is moved every year on January 1st.  This photo shows staff at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station moving the US flag next to the marker at its location for 2009.

Sources Consulted:

Bagshawe, Richard W. and John Goldup. “The Postal History of the Antarctic 1904-1949”, reprinted from The Polar Record Number 41: January 1951. Scott Polar Research Institute. Cambridge.

Flynn, Sian. “Different Approaches to Antarctic Exploration”. BBC – History – British History in-depth. November 5, 2009.

Heidelbaugh, Lynn. “Former Object of the Month: Antarctic Post Office” November 2008.

No Author. National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs.“Philatelic Mail”. July 10, 2008.

No Author. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division. “South Pole Observatory”. No Date. [Accessed November 13, 2009]

No Author. “Research Stations of Antarctica”. October 10, 2009.

Tyler, Kelly. “Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance: Quest for the Pole: Historic Antarctic Land Journeys”. NOVA Online. March 2002.

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