Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections


Josephine R. Bull Collection on Polar Exploration

Part I: Description

Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library
Collection Number:

Copyright © 2003 by Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library

May 2003
Last Updated: November 18, 2013


Total Boxes: 1
Linear Feet: 0.50

Administrative Information


Gift of Josephine R. Bull, February 1984.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Josephine R. Bull Collection on Polar Exploration is the physical property of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.

Cite as:

Josephine R. Bull Collection on Polar Exploration, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research.



Henry Bryant
Henry Bryant (1859-1932) took an active interest in travel and exploration throughout his life. Although trained as a lawyer, Bryant never practiced but rather began work in exploration and science after he graduated from college. He organized an expedition to Labrador to investigate the Grand Falls in 1891, an endeavour which gained much public attention. In 1894 Bryant headed an auxiliary expedition for the famous arctic explorer, Robert Peary, in the Arctic. Beyond his arctic endeavors, he traveled extensively in Alaska, Java, and the Canadian Rockies. He was a member of many prestigious geographical societies all over the world, including Royal Geographical Society of England and the Geographical and Anthropological Society of Stockholm. He served as president of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia for many years.

The Geographical Society of Philadelphia
The Geographical Society of Philadelphia was founded in 1891 by a group of Philadelphians interested in geography and exploration. Many of the members were active travelers and explorers including mountaineer Angelo Heilprin and arctic explorer Henry E. Bryant, both ofhwom served as president of the Society. The Society sought to recognize excellence in exploration through a series of awards which it has conferred upon many prominent explorers and authors throughout the century including Admiral Richard Byrd, Capt. Robert F. Scott, John Glenn, and Rachel Carson. The Society continues to operate grant programs to promote geographically interesting research as well as sponsoring numerous educational events. Visit their website at



The Collection on Polar Exploration was the gift of Josephine R. Bull, Bryn Mawr College 1932, who, as the grand niece of Henry Bryant, collected this fascinating material related to his life and to the subject of polar exploration in the early twentieth century. The collection is comprised of materials related to the Society's interest and sponsorship of the polar expeditions of the early 20th century. The letters and other materials highlight the great interest in polar exploration at the time, as well as chronicling some of the impediments facing explorers wishing to chart the polar regions. The collection is organized as follows:

I. Drift Cask Experiment
At the turn of the century, arctic exploration depended greatly on knowing the direction of the ocean currents. With the available ships, there was a danger of floating into a pack of ice and becoming stuck. The Geographical Society of Philadelphia inaugurated an experiment in 1899 to investigate into the direction and speed of the north polar currents. The experiment was designed to provide conclusive evidence without endangering human lives. Government and whaling vessels placed oak casks on heavy floe ice in the waters north of the Bering Strait and north of Alaska, with the hope that these casks would make their way across the unexplored north and be picked up when they landed on shore. The casks contained forms explaining the experiment and requesting the form be returned to the Geographical Society. During the years 1899-1901, 35 casks were distributed. By 1924, 6 casks were recovered, two of which were discovered far west of their starting point, demonstrating a westerly flow of currents in the Arctic. The collection includes documents pertaining to the Melville-Bryant Drift Cask Experiment: forms recovered from the casks; correspondence with the individuals who found the casks as well as general correspondence about the cask experiment; a table charting the locations where the casks were deposited into the ocean.; and Henry Bryant's correspondence with Roald Amundsen, an explorer who used the evidence suggested by the drift cask experiment to plan the route for his next expedition.

II. Byrd Antarctic Expedition - 1929
U.S. Naval Officer and polar explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd made his first Antarctic expedition between 1928-30. In the course of the expedition Byrd founded a base, "Little America" on the Ross Ice Shelf. This base served as a center for flights over the south pole, the first of which was made by Byrd in 1929. He also discovered the Antarctic mountain range, "Rockefeller Mountains" and an expanse of land beyond these mountains which he named "Marie Byrd Land" after his wife. For his distinctive achievements on this expedition and others he was made the officer in charge of Antarctic Programs for the Navy in 1955 and was awarded many honors, including the Kane Medal of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia. The collection includes correspondence related to Bryant's financial support of the 1929 expedition.

III. Byrd - Arctic Expedition
Transcripts from the Geographical Society's dinner to confer the Kane Medal on Richard Byrd, and Henry Bryant's speech for the occasion.

IV. Peary Expedition - 1909
Robert Peary (1856-1920) is widely credited with having made the first successful expedition to the North Pole. Peary, a U.S. naval officer, purportedly reached the pole on April 6, 1909. Later examination of his journals and notes have led some to believe that his claim to be the first to reach the pole was in error, that he had actually been between 30 and 60 miles away, though this remains a matter of contention. The collection includes two telegrams announcing the success of Peary's expedition in reaching the North Pole.

V. Roumanian/Greenland Expedition - 1927-1928
This expedition of 1927 was formed with the purpose of studying the meteorology, glaciology, and hydrography of Greenland. The collection contains correspondence and documentation concerning Constatin Dumbrava's expedition, including the proposed objectives and many letters seeking financial backing for the journey. The Geographical Society was among the contributors.

VI. Correspondence of Henry Grier Bryant
The collection contains miscellaneous correspondence of Henry Bryant, president of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, including letters concerning the formation of the Bureau of Association of Mountaineering Clubs of North America in 1916, personal correspondence, and letters concerning the American Philosophical Society.

PART II: Box and Folder List

Processing and guide by Alice Goff and Marianne Hansen.


Full List of Guides to the Collections
Abbreviations Used in Guides

Last update: November 18, 2013