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Richard E. Byrd Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1928. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-BN-5390-001-B-x).

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Byrd, Richard Evelyn (25 October 1888–11 March 1957), naval aviator and explorer, was born in Winchester, Virginia, the son of Richard Evelyn Byrd, an attorney, and Eleanor Bolling Flood. The family had long been prominent in Virginia; Byrd’s brother Harry Flood Byrd served as governor and several terms as a U.S. senator. After traveling alone around the world at the age of twelve, Byrd attended the Shenandoah Valley Military Academy, Virginia Military Institute (1904–1907), the University of Virginia (1907–1908), and the U.S. Naval Academy, receiving his ensign’s commission in 1912....

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Danenhower, John Wilson (30 September 1849–20 April 1887), naval officer and arctic explorer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of William Washington Danenhower, a publisher and political activist; his mother’s name is not known. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1870, he served in Europe, the North Pacific, and at the U.S. Naval Observatory. In 1878 he suffered a mental breakdown and was confined for four months at the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. After his release he served on the ...

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De Long, George Washington (22 August 1844–30 October 1881), naval officer and explorer, was born in New York City, the son of Levi De Long and Catherine Greames (occupations unknown). He grew up in Brooklyn and was fascinated with stories of American naval heroes during the War of 1812. His protective parents tried vigorously to dissuade him—their only child—from going to sea, but he gained entrance on his own to the U.S. Naval Academy, which at the time was located at Newport, Rhode Island. He graduated with distinction in 1865, too late to participate in the Civil War. He was assigned as a midshipman aboard the U.S.S. ...

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Martínez, Esteban José (09 December 1742–28 October 1798), Spanish naval officer and explorer of the northwest coast of North America, was born in Seville, Spain, of unknown parentage. At thirteen years of age, Martínez entered a three-year program at Seville’s marine Semenario de San Telmo. During the 1760s he served in several merchant ships on voyages from Spain to the Americas. In 1770 he married Gertrudis González. Transferred to duty on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, in 1773 he was a second pilot in the naval department of San Blas that supplied Baja California and Sonora and was home base to the naval vessels that had begun to explore the California coast....

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Thomas Jefferson Page. Wood engraving of a photograph from the studio of Mathew B. Brady, 1859. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107249).

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Page, Thomas Jefferson (04 January 1808–26 October 1899), naval officer and explorer, was born in Shelly, Gloucester County, Virginia, the son of Mann Page, a plantation owner, and Elizabeth Nelson. Page’s varied and interesting career began in 1827 when he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy (aboard a ship in New York) by President ...

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Ronne, Finn (20 December 1899–02 January 1980), naval officer and Antarctic explorer, was born in Horten, Norway, the son of Martin Richard Ronne, an explorer, and Maren Gurine. Ronne studied mechanical and marine engineering at Horton Technical College and was active in several sports, including alpine and cross-country skiing....

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Strain, Isaac G. (04 March 1821–14 May 1857), explorer and naval officer, was born in Roxbury, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Strain and Eliza Geddes. His middle name was probably Geddes, although this has never been confirmed. Little is known about his early life, but he received sufficient education to enter the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in December 1837. After nearly five years of service in the West Indies and along the coast of Brazil, Strain was assigned to a naval school in Philadelphia in 1842 and remained there for nearly one year....

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Vancouver, George (22 June 1757–12 May 1798), explorer and naval officer, was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England, the son of John Jasper Vancouver, deputy collector of customs, and Bridget Berners. At the age of fourteen he gained appointment as midshipman in training and joined Captain James Cook’s explorations of the Antarctic, the South Atlantic, and the South Pacific aboard the ...

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Charles Wilkes. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1371).

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Wilkes, Charles (03 April 1798–08 February 1877), naval officer and explorer, was born in New York City, the son of John de Ponthieu Wilkes, a banker, and Mary Seton. He was educated in private schools and with tutors, concentrating on mathematics, scientific subjects, surveying, and navigation, though he studied languages and drawing as well. Determined to go to sea but at first denied a naval commission, Wilkes made three voyages as a merchant seaman between 1815 and 1818. He received his appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy on 1 January 1818. Promotion to lieutenant came two days after his marriage to Jane Jeffrey Renwick on 26 April 1826. The couple had four children. On 12 March 1833 he reported for duty as head of the navy’s Depot of Charts and Instruments. In August 1836 Wilkes traveled to England and France to obtain equipment, books, and maps for the recently authorized exploring expedition to the Pacific Ocean. He hoped to play a significant role in the expedition as he had “studied with this view ever since the first Expedition was talked of” ( ...