January 19, 2011

Wilkes Claims Antarctica for the U.S. -- 1840

On this day in 1840, Captain Charles Wilkes sighted a portion of Antarctica and claimed it to be a U.S. territory.

In his log, Wilkes wrote of his discovery of "an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands." The word Antarctic means "opposite to the north."

This French map shows where Wilkes's expedition sailed.

Of course, Antarctica is not a U.S. territory. In the 1800s as more and more sailors spotted the continent, various expedition leaders made claims for their own nations. By the 1930s, the U.S. made an official policy that the nation made no claims on the southernmost continent but also recognized no other countries' claims. In the modern world, seven different nations still claim parts of the continent, but the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 to 1961, set aside the continent as an international zone and a scientific preserve for all. 
(The seven nations that still have territorial claims in Antarctica are Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina, all of which are quite close to Antarctica; and Britain, France, and Norway, all of which are far away in the Northern Hemisphere.)

For more on Antarctica, see thisthis, and this earlier post. For more on the Wilkes expedition, see this earlier post.

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