For seventy-five years, through a biannual journal—The Polar Times—and a series of symposiums, the APS has kept their select community updated on scientific, military, diplomatic, literary, and economic trends and developments in the Arctic and Antarctic. As communications have advanced, the APS now also reports from the field, breaking news and providing inside commentary from leaders and members of scientific exploration parties, government officials, and a network of correspondents.
The American Polar Society was founded in 1934 by August Howard, a senior executive of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Howard came of age in a period when pioneering explorers like Richard E. Byrd, Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and Hubert Wilkins made dramatic headlines achieving first flights over uncharted regions of the Arctic and Antarctica. He became fascinated by polar exploration and collaborated with returning explorers such as Paul Siple, an Eagle Scout and college student who participated in Admiral Byrd’s First and Second Antarctic expeditions, to form the APS.
Byrd and Ellsworth were among the first Honorary Members of the APS, a distinction awarded in the early years of the organization to Laurence M. Gould, chief scientist of the first Byrd Antarctic Expedition and leader of a geological survey team that sledged 1,500 miles across the Ross Ice Shelf to the Queen Maud Mountains; Bernt Balchen, chief pilot of Byrd’s first flight to the South Pole; Thomas Poulter, chief scientist of the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition; and Louise A. Boyd, a San Francisco socialite who organized and led voyages of scientific discovery to East Greenland.
As the “heroic” age passed and polar exploration became more of an academic and military enterprise, the list of Honorary Members expanded to include: Charles Bentley, leader of six geophysical traverses of Antarctica covering more than 4,000 miles of previously uncharted territory; Vice Admiral James F. Calvert, skipper of the USS Skate, the first submarine to surface at the North Pole; Norbert Untersteiner, scientific leader of Ice Station Alpha, a year-long observatory in the central Arctic ice pack; Rear Admiral James R. Reedy, commander of 4,000-mile exploratory flights from South Africa and Australia, respectively, across the South Pole; and James Van Allen, a catalyst of the International Geophysical Year whose IGY voyages to Greenland and Antarctica led to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts.
The American Polar Society today remains one of the most unique associations on earth. A tax exempt, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the APS consists of approximately 1,300 individual members—nearly all of whom have been to the polar regions—and more than one hundred institutional members consisting of some three dozen universities and research institutes including the leading Australian, British, Danish, Japanese, and Norwegian polar research centers.
The international membership includes scientists and educators, military and diplomatic personnel, polar tourism and contracting industry executives, explorers, writers, historians, as well as interested members of the public. Board members include Dr. Michele Raney, the first woman physician to winter over in Antarctica; Lawson Brigham, Deputy Director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission; and Denise Landau, former executive director of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.
The American Polar Society continues to disseminate broad coverage of information on the Arctic and the Antarctic through The Polar Times, this website and Facebook. Recent biennial symposiums have focused on “Women’s Roles in Polar Regions: Past, Present, and Future,” the “International Polar Year 2007-2008” and “Ice and Climate Change at the Poles: Personal Accounts and Satellite Evidence.”
The spirit of the contemporary APS is best represented in the person of the Society’s current president, Captain Alfred S. McLaren. A Cold War submarine commander who traversed the Arctic beneath sea and ice, McLaren received a PhD in Physical Geography from the University of Colorado in 1986. He remains an active deep-sea explorer and polar scientist.
Far-reaching decisions concerning the future of the polar regions will be made in the 21st Century. The new leadership of the American Polar Society is determined to honor the Society’s heritage and legacy by expanding its role in a world of rapid change in the high latitudes.