Measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation can reveal with remarkable precision the conditions of the Universe when it was ~400,000 years old. The three most fundamental properties of the CMB are its frequency spectrum (which determines the temperature), and the fluctuations in both the temperature and polarization across a range of angular scales. The frequency spectrum has been well determined, and considerable progress has been made in measuring the power spectrum of the temperature fluctuations. But despite many efforts to measure the polarization, detection of this property of the CMB has hitherto been beyond the reach of even the most sensitive observations. Here we describe the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI), an array of radio telescopes, which for the past two years has conducted polarization-sensitive observations of the CMB from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole research station.