Amory H. Bud Waite

Hide Profile

Amory H. "Bud" Waite, Jr. was born near Boston on February 14, 1902 and died in Venice, Florida on January 15, 1985. A radio and electrical engineer, Waite participated in eleven expeditions to the Antarctic and twelve expeditions to the Arctic regions between 1933 and 1965. As a radio operator during the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition, Waite gained national recognition as one of the three men who rescued Admiral Richard E. Byrd from the Bolling Advanced Base during the Antarctic winter of 1934. His most notable achievement in polar exploration and research was the development during the 1950s and 1960s of a system to measure the depth of ice using radio waves. Waite patented this system, known as radio ice depth sounding.

Waite's career as a radio operator began in 1912 when, as a twelve-year-old Boy Scout, he obtained his first amateur radio license. Following graduation from high school in 1919, Waite joined the U.S. Navy and went through the Naval Radio School at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. First stationed aboard the battleship U.S.S. Florida in the Atlantic Fleet, Waite eventually rose in rank to became the Flag Radio Operator for the fleet aboard the U.S.S. Arkansas. After leaving the U.S. Navy with an honorable discharge in 1923, Waite worked for a variety of companies installing radio equipment in naval vessels under construction in the Boston area. During this time he also took night classes at the Lowell Institute (present-day Massachusetts Institute of Technology), graduating in 1926 with a degree in radio and electrical engineering.

In 1929, Waite became the Assistant Electrical Officer aboard the M.S. Triumph, the world's first electrically driven cargo vessel. Waite traveled to the Philippines, Shanghai and Hong Kong and back through the Panama Canal during the ship's eight-month maiden voyage. Upon his return from the Orient, Waite worked for four years at the Shortwave and Television Corporation in Boston, where he eventually became the Chief Operator of New England's first television station. During this time period Waite also served as a Master Sergeant in the Massachusetts National Guard, working to develop some of the military's first mobile radio stations.

As an amateur radio operator during the 1920s, Waite spent many evenings monitoring the radio broadcasts sent by various polar explorers, including U.S. Navy Lieutenant Richard E. Byrd. In 1933, when Byrd called for volunteers for his second expedition to Antarctica, Waite applied and was accepted as an electrician aboard the expedition's ship, the S.S. Bear of Oakland. Waite eventually became the ship's chief radio operator and later was assigned to the shore party at Little America. While living at the Little America base Waite helped erect radio towers and became one of the expedition's radio operators. As such, Waite traveled on many of the expedition's exploratory tractor trips across the ice of the continent. In July and August of 1934, Waite participated in all three attempts to rescue Richard E. Byrd from his isolated position at the Bolling Advanced Base. Waite, along with Dr. Thomas Poulter and Peter Demas, finally reached Byrd on August 13th, after traveling 123 miles in seventy straight hours during the pitch darkness of the Antarctic winter at temperatures averaging minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The rescue party found Byrd alive, but too weak to travel due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The four men subsequently spent ten weeks together in the base's nine by thirteen foot hut until Byrd recovered from his sickness and weather conditions improved enough to allow Byrd to return to Little America by airplane.

Upon returning to Boston from his first trip to Antarctica, Waite resumed his work in television, but kept in contact with Richard E. Byrd. At Byrd's request, Waite began lecturing about his experiences in the Antarctic to various high school and college groups. Over the next four decades Waite gave more than 3,000 such lectures, expanding his talks to incorporate his experiences in the twenty-two subsequent trips he took to the polar regions.

Following the attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Waite became a civilian radio engineer with the U.S. Army Signal Corps based at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, a position he would keep until his retirement in 1965. During World War II, Waite helped design and install the radio relay system used to communicate between England and France in the days immediately following the Allied invasion at Normandy. He designed and installed similar systems in Saipan in the Pacific Theater of the war and in Japan after the war's end. From 1946 to 1953, Waite was part of a U.S. Army Signal Corps team monitoring the affects on radio communications during fourteen atomic bomb tests conducted in the Nevada desert and at islands in the South Pacific.

Waite's second trip to Antarctica occurred in 1946-47 when, as an observer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, he participated in Operation Highjump. He next returned to the region as a member of the expedition aboard the icebreaker U.S.S. Atka, which circumnavigated the Antarctic Continent in 1954-55. The following year, Waite participated in Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-56) and returned to the Antarctic seven more times between 1956 and 1965 during subsequent Operation Deep Freeze expeditions. In addition, Waite traveled to the Arctic region twelve times from 1946 until his retirement in 1965, alternating his summers in the Arctic and his winters in the Antarctic. Most of his early Arctic research took place in Alaska and in the Hudson's Bay area near Fort Churchill, Manitoba in Canada. During the 1960s, Waite's research took him to Camps Tuto and Century in Greenland.

During the 1950s, Waite became curious about aircraft crashes that occurred during flights over Greenland, which reports attributed to errors in altimeter readings. Waite speculated that the faulty readings were caused by the radar waves used by altimeters to measure an aircraft's height penetrating, rather than bouncing off, the deep ice covering the Greenland landmass. If this was true, Waite thought a system could be developed to use radio or radar waves to measure the thickness of the ice covering the polar regions. Waite first tested his theory on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica during the winter of 1955-56, where he successfully recorded the long-distance transmission of radio waves through ice. In January 1957, he recorded the first bottom echo from the base of the Ross Ice Shelf and in the following year successfully measured the ground beneath 500 feet of ice at Wilkes Station. Following these initial experiments, over the next eight years Waite made more than fifty flights by aircraft and helicopter measuring ice depths over hundreds of miles of the polar regions. In the summers of 1963 and 1964, Waite organized the International Cooperative Field Experiment in Glacier Sounding, in which teams from a number of countries compared the measurements of ice depth obtained along the same sounding lines using radar, seismic, gravimetric and electrical systems.

Waite continued to lecture about the polar regions after his retirement in 1965. He also pursued his interests in genealogy, publishing a book on his maternal ancestors in 1982. Waite was an avid collector of polar philately and in 1983 designed the cache for the postal cover commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. A Life Member of the Pioneer Wireless Association, Waite held an amateur radio operator's license throughout his life with the call letters of W2ZK.

From the guide to the Amory H. "Bud" Waite Collection, 1790-1985, 1932-1970, (The Ohio State University. Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Amory H. "Bud" Waite Collection, 1790-1985, 1932-1970 The Ohio State University. Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Waite, Amory Hooper, 1902- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Antarctica--Discovery and exploration--American


Related Descriptions


Ark ID: w6fd0c4b

SNAC ID: 16190884