The Antarctic Snow Cruiser—Updated

Last year, I ran a brief photo essay on this fascinating vehicle and its trip to Antarctica, but was frustrated by a lack of photos of the Snow Cruiser actually in Antarctica. A few months ago, I spent several days in the National Archives in Maryland, and was able to discover and digitize a dozen images from Antarctica, adding them here. In 1939, scientists and engineers at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology designed and built a massive new vehicle intended for use in Antarctic exploration. The Antarctic Snow Cruiser measured 55 feet long, weighed more than 37 tons fully loaded, and rolled on four smooth 10-foot-tall tires designed to retract and allow part of the vehicle to scoot across crevasses. The Institute loaned the $150,000 machine to the U.S. government for its upcoming Antarctic expedition headed by Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, and had the Snow Cruiser driven from Chicago to Boston (at a top speed of 30 mph) to be loaded on the ship the North Star. The crew managed to deliver the Snow Cruiser to the Antarctic ice, but the design proved faulty, and the vehicle was soon converted to a stationary crew quarters, never to leave Antarctica again. The diesel-electric hybrid powertrain was severely underpowered, and the smooth tires, designed for swampy terrain, offered very little traction, sinking into the snow. More than 75 years later, the world is still unsure where it is—the Antarctic Snow Cruiser could remain buried somewhere under sheets of ice, or it could have broken off with an ice floe, eventually sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
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