Known to us mere mortals as the Snow Cruiser and causing tailbacks along a 1020-mile route stretching from Chicago to Boston, this massive exploration machine represented the US attempt at taking possession of Antarctica in late 1939.
In the run up to WWII, declaring large chunks of the unclaimed continent had become something of a sport for decedent adventurers—and America's dissident social elite wanted in. Except, with cash to develop new transport, they weren't simply going to walk...
Designed by physicist and explorer Thomas C. Poulter, and constructed by the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago, the Snow Cruiser was staggeringly large. Some 55.9 feet in length, 19.8 feet wide and 16.4 feet in height when standing atop impossibly large pneumatic tires—even by modern standards, this was a force to be reckoned with.
Having such a notable vehicle, boasting a price tag of $150,000 back in 1938 ($2.8 million with modern inflation), demonstrated clear intent from the US on asserting its ownership of various sectors of the polar region, but why?
There was much at stake within Antarctica. Conquering these frozen lands was an irresistible challenge that would bring much admiration and respect to those who were successful. There were invaluable opportunities for scientific study with the possibility of establishing weather observatories that would greatly assist with long-term forecasting. And who wouldn’t be interested in enormous reserves of coal, oil, copper, tin and nickel beneath the snow?
Funnily enough, the US was keen to snatch a generously proportioned slice of the pie; especially with tense global relations as Adolf Hitler marched his armies across Europe. Many spots had already been claimed for America, by Lincoln Ellsworth and Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd on previous expeditions, but those in power wanted more of a physical presence on Antarctica—thus the need for a research vehicle.
Consequently, the Snow Cruiser was enormous for one main reason. Not only did she have to provide accommodation for several men, she also had to serve as a mobile scientific laboratory and competent polar exploration vehicle. The Snow Cruiser carried 2500 gallons of diesel for powering itself, as well as 1000 gallons of airplane fuel for the Beechcraft Staggerwing scout bi-plane, used to conduct aerial surveys, that it would carry on the roof.