With a little help from an icebreaker boat - pictured here - US admiral Richard Byrd traversed 2,800 miles of glacial ice to reach the South Pole in 1928. This was Byrd's first Antarctic expedition, and between then and 1957 he did more than any other person to direct the exploration of Antarctica. An American rear admiral, he was also an Arctic explorer, aviator and navigator. Byrd appears to have had all the trappings of a latter-day Richard Branson - he held two records as the first person to fly to the North Pole in 1926, and the first to the South Pole three years later - but he was not driven only by a desire for a place in the history books. Byrd also established scientific projects in the Antarctic, and wrote a book, Alone, about his experience of spending a winter by himself at the South Pole.
In June, Roald Amundsen's death in a sea-plane crash meant that both explorers credited with first reaching the South Pole had died while on expeditions (Robert Falcon Scott froze to death in 1911). Three months after the House of Commons passed the Equal Franchise Bill, giving women the vote on the same terms as men, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Her fuel supply had been so low that she threw out equipment to stay airborne. Onlookers were poised for another fatality when the planned Southampton landing was upstaged by a dramatic drop into the South Wales estuary, but fortunately the papers could report that she emerged "looking relaxed in a woollen coat and brightly-hued bandeau".
"How does a man live? By completely forgetting he is a human being," commented Bertolt Brecht's Three-penny Opera. This could be a testimony to the nature of men such as Byrd, who spent their lives trying extend existing human knowledge, regardless of the risks to their personal safety.
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Current exhibitions: 'Seeing Red', work by Clare Strand at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Exile, Upper Parkgate, Little Germany, Bradford BD1. (01274 203 300). Until 8 March.Reuse content