Interior Antarctica is among the most remote places on Earth and was thought to be beyond the reach of human impacts when Amundsen and Scott raced to the South Pole in 1911. Here we show detailed measurements from an extensive array of 16 ice cores quantifying substantial toxic heavy metal lead pollution at South Pole and throughout Antarctica by 1889 – beating polar explorers by more than 22 years. Unlike the Arctic where lead pollution peaked in the 1970s, lead pollution in Antarctica was as high in the early 20th century as at any time since industrialization. The similar timing and magnitude of changes in lead deposition across Antarctica, as well as the characteristic isotopic signature of Broken Hill lead found throughout the continent, suggest that this single emission source in southern Australia was responsible for the introduction of lead pollution into Antarctica at the end of the 19th century and remains a significant source today. An estimated 660 t of industrial lead have been deposited over Antarctica during the past 130 years as a result of mid-latitude industrial emissions, with regional-to-global scale circulation likely modulating aerosol concentrations. Despite abatement efforts, significant lead pollution in Antarctica persists into the 21st century.