Roald Amundsen


Born: Jul 16, 1872 in Borge, Østfold, Norway
Date missing: Jun 18, 1928 (at age 55)
Nationality: Norwegian
Occupation: Explorer
Famous For: Exploring the polar regions

Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian polar explorer. He was the leader of the expedition which, in 1911, became the first to reach the geographic South Pole. Amundsen also reached the North Pole in 1926, making him the first man to stand at both ends of the Earth. His other achievements include leading the first voyage through the Northwest Passage. Amundsen’s final fate is unknown as he disappeared while attempting to rescue comrades in the Arctic Ocean in 1928.

Early years

Amundsen was born near Oslo in July 1872. His hero was the British Arctic explorer, John Franklin, and he longed to emulate his achievements. However, his mother persuaded him to study medicine instead. When Roald was 21, his mother died, and the young man broke off his studies of medicine and started to prepare for a polar expedition. During the 1890’s, he served as a deckhand and then first mate on several Arctic voyages. In one case, on a Belgian expedition, his knowledge of medicine saved the crew from scurvy. Amundsen knew that they needed vitamin C, which could be obtained by eating seal meat.

Amundsen was a captain by 1899. He started organizing a trip to reach the North Magnetic Pole. The following year, he bought a ship, and in 1903 he and his six-man crew sailed to northern Canada by way of Greenland. On King William Island, they built two huts, an observatory to study astronomical phenomena, and a pair of ships. The Netsilik Indians, who lived on the island, assisted them with learning how to survive in the inhospitable terrain. Meanwhile, the Norwegians carried out a number of mapping expeditions in the area of the island.

North and South Poles

Having reached the North Magnetic Pole in 1904, Amundsen’s crew set sail for the Northwest Passage, naming the gulf they passed through after Queen Maud of Norway. Close to Herschel Island, their ships became trapped by ice, forcing them to use dog sleds in order to make any further progress. Traveling up the Yukon River, they eventually reached the Alaskan settlement of Eagle, where they were able to send word by telegraph that they had successfully navigated the Passage. They were the first men ever to achieve this feat. On reaching the town of Nome, Amundsen and his crew were feted as heroes. Unusually for the time, only one member of the crew had died during the expedition.

Amundsen set out on his most famous adventure in 1910: his race to the geographic South Pole against a British team led by Robert Falcon Scott. His initial idea was to go to the geographic North Pole, but on hearing that the United States expedition led by Robert Peary had reached it first, he switched his attentions to the Antarctic instead. His base camp was established close to the Ross Ice Shelf, at the Bay of Whales. Relying heavily on dog sleds, Amundsen’s party reached the pole on December 14th, 1911, a few weeks ahead of Scott’s expedition. On their return to base camp, they had traveled 1,860 miles in under 100 days.

Final Years and Disappearance

After World War One, Amundsen attempted to make use of sea currents to allow his ice-bound ships to drift to the North Pole, but he was repeatedly thwarted by unsuitable conditions. Instead, he obtained financing from an American millionaire for an air expedition. Again, Amundsen’s attempts were unsuccessful and in early May 1926, Richard Evelyn Bird became the first man to fly to the pole. However, Amundsen did succeed in reaching the pole by dirigible later that month. He is presumed to have died in 1928, when his plane came down while trying to reach a friend who had been involved in a blimp crash.