How did a polar center come to be located in Ohio?

Trustees sitting around a table

The Ohio State University’s involvement in cold regions research began just after World War II with U.S. Army contracts for work in Greenland.  Interest in polar studies grew during the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), and soon thereafter, Dr. Richard P. Goldthwait, a prominent glacial geologist in the university’s Department of Geology, established a glaciology data center on the campus.  Dr. Goldthwait and others recognized the need for a polar research organization, and on February 12, 1960, the Institute of Polar Studies gained formal recognition from The Ohio State University Board of Trustees.   Dr. Goldthwait was appointed the first director of the Institute.

According to its constitution, the purpose of the Institute of Polar Studies was to: plan, encourage, support, and direct scientific research in polar phenomena; bring together or develop interrelated investigations and teams of investigators; seek and facilitate the training of researchers who are devoted to polar studies; and make the results of those studies available to scientists and the public.

Members of the Institute published their findings in scientific journals and in a report series distributed to other national and international polar research institutions and university libraries.  These reports and current reports are available in OSU’s institutional repository, the Knowledge Bank https://kb.osu.edu/ A report by Garry McKenzie and John Splettstoesser about the beginnings of the Institute is also available in the Knowledge Bank http://hdl.handle.net/1811/48333

In the mid-1980s The Ohio State University submitted a proposal to acquire the expeditionary records, personal papers and other memorabilia of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd from the estate of Marie A. Byrd, the late wife of the admiral. The bid was successful, due in part to the university’s ongoing commitment to polar research as evidenced by the accomplishments of members of the Institute. The purchase of these papers provided the nucleus for the establishment of the Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program.  In 1987 the Institute was officially renamed the Byrd Polar Research Center in honor of the admiral.   The Archival Program was officially established in 1990 and is a collaborative venture of the Byrd Polar Research Center and The Ohio State University Libraries/Archives.  More information about the Archival Program and their collections is available on their website http://library.osu.edu/find/collections/byrd-polar-archives/  

The history of the Institute and the Byrd Center is also chronicled in the Archival Program’s Polar Timeline https://library.osu.edu/find/collections/byrd-polar-archives/polar-timeline/

Text written by Laura Kissel and Lynn Lay.