The First South Pole Marker

mark my words!

The above image depicts the first Pole marker of the type which is more familiar nowadays. It was taken to the ice in the 1959-60 season as documented in the following article:

U. S. to Set Up 3-lnch Marker Near South Pole

WASHINGTON. Nov 6 (AP) The United States will set up a permanent 3-inch bronze marker this winter at its station next door to the South Pole.

The disc will show that the station is at latitude 89 degrees 59 minutes 6 seconds [sic] south, longitude 24 degrees 8 minutes west, or 1,650 feet north of the South Pole.

The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, which will erect the marker, announced the location today. It was determined from 52 sets of astronomical observations made during the Antarctic's long night by Maj. Palle Mogensen. He was the American scientific leader during the International Geophysical Year.

Maj. Mogensen made his observations through a slot in the roof of the station hut. At times the temperature was 100 degrees below zero outside the hut and zero inside the hut.

[from the December, 1959 Polar Times]

A bit more information...first, note that the Coast and Geodetic Survey, rather than USGS, had technical jurisdiction at this time over this part of the world, hence the main labeling on the marker. Like some of the ones created in the 1970s and 80s, this marker was fabricated in the US rather than at Pole, since there really weren't any facilities to do so properly until the machine shop in MAPO was available in the 1990s. And as will be obvious, this marker was NOT intended to be placed at the Pole, but rather inside the station.

Below is a map cut of the station indicating "Mogensen's Pole" which was what this marker location was based on. I've twisted it a bit to orient it to grid north as we know it these days. Several things must be being that at this time no one knew that the icecap was moving relative to the Earth's surface, something that would confound the celestial observations used at the time to determine the Pole location. And there was some disagreement as to the location amongst the various observers and calculators. Palle Mogensen was the science leader at Pole in the 1957-58 summer/winter season...otherwise as a US Army major he was involved with various other traverse and helicopter operations during the first 10 years of the US Antarctic Research Program.

this way out

So where is the marker nowadays? I found no further documentation that it ever was actually placed, or where that might have been. From the map, the marker should have been placed somewhere between the science building and the balloon inflation building...assuming it is there, it is well buried by now.

Credits and documentation...basically a lot of thanks are due to Ed Fremouw, who sent me the image of the marker along with the map and the following letter which confirms that the marker was taken to the ice by Henry Francis at the beginning of the 1959-60 season for further transfer to Pole for installation. Ed wintered in 1959 as the aurora observer from the USAF Cambridge Research Center.