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Roald Amundsen

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen
Born (1872-07-16)16 July 1872[1]
Østfold, Norway
Disappeared 18 June 1928(1928-06-18) (aged 55)
Nationality Norwegian
Occupation Explorer
Known for First expedition to the South Pole and flyover of the North Pole
Parents Jens Amundsen, Hanna Sahlqvist
Awards Hubbard Medal (1907)
Charles P. Daly Medal (1912)

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (Norwegian: ; 16 July 1872 – [3]

He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06). He disappeared in June 1928 while taking part in a rescue mission. Amundsen, Douglas Mawson, Robert Falcon Scott, and Ernest Shackleton were key expedition leaders during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.


  • Early life 1
  • Polar treks 2
    • Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897–99) 2.1
    • Northwest Passage (1903–1906) 2.2
    • South Pole Expedition (1910–12) 2.3
  • Northeast Passage (1918–20) 3
  • Reaching the North Pole 4
  • Disappearance and death 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Works by Amundsen 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Roald Amundsen as a young boy in Christiania, 1875

Amundsen was born to a family of Norwegian shipowners and captains in Jens Amundsen and Hanna Sahlqvist. Roald was the fourth son in the family. His mother wanted him to avoid the family maritime trade and encouraged him to become a doctor, a promise that Amundsen kept until his mother died when he was aged 21. He promptly quit university for a life at sea.[4]

Amundsen had hidden a lifelong desire inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's crossing of Greenland in 1888 and Franklin's lost expedition. He decided on a life of intense exploration of wilderness places.[5]

Polar treks

Roald Amundsen

Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897–99)

Portraits of Roald Amundsen

Amundsen joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897–99) as first mate. This expedition, led by Adrien de Gerlache using the ship the RV Belgica, became the first expedition to winter in Antarctica.[6] The Belgica, whether by mistake or design, became locked in the sea ice at 70°30′S off Alexander Island, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The crew endured a winter for which they were poorly prepared. By Amundsen's own estimation, the doctor for the expedition, the American Frederick Cook, probably saved the crew from scurvy by hunting for animals and feeding the crew fresh meat. In cases where citrus fruits are lacking, fresh meat from animals that make their own vitamin C (which most do) contains enough of the vitamin to prevent scurvy, and even partly treat it. This was an important lesson for Amundsen's future expeditions.

Northwest Passage (1903–1906)

RV Belgica frozen in the ice, 1898

In 1903, Amundsen led the first expedition to successfully traverse Canada's Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With him were six men in a 45-ton fishing vessel, Gjøa. His technique was to use a small ship and hug the coast. Amundsen had the ship outfitted with a small gasoline engine.[7] They travelled via Baffin Bay, the Parry Channel and then south through Peel Sound, James Ross Strait, Simpson Strait and Rae Strait. They spent two winters at King William Island in what is today Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada.[6][7] During this time, Amundsen learned from the local Netsilik people about Arctic survival skills, which he found invaluable also on later expeditions. For example, he learned to use sled dogs for transportation of goods and to wear animal skins in lieu of heavy, woolen parkas, which could not deter cold when wet.

Leaving Gjoa Haven he went west and passed Cambridge Bay, which had been reached from the west by Richard Collinson in 1852. Continuing to the south of Victoria Island, the ship cleared the Canadian Arctic Archipelago on 17 August 1905. It had to stop for the winter before going on to Nome on the Alaska District's Pacific coast. Five hundred miles (800 km) away, Eagle City, Alaska, had a telegraph station; Amundsen travelled there (and back) overland to wire a success message (collect) on 5 December 1905. His team reached Nome in 1906. Because the water along the route was sometimes as shallow as 3 ft (0.91 m), a larger ship could not have made the voyage.

At this time that Amundsen learned that Norway had formally become independent of Sweden and had a new king. The explorer sent the new King Haakon VII news that his traversing the Northwest Passage "was a great achievement for Norway". He said he hoped to do more and signed it "Your loyal subject, Roald Amundsen." The crew returned to Oslo in November 1906, after almost 3.5 years abroad. But, it took exploration fans until 1972 to return the Gjøa to Norway. After a 45-day trip from San Francisco on a bulk carrier, the Gjøa was placed in her current location on land, outside the Fram Museum in Oslo.[8]

South Pole Expedition (1910–12)

Roald Amundsen and his crew looking at the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, 1911

Amundsen planned next to take an expedition to the North Pole and explore the Arctic Basin. Finding it difficult to raise funds, when he heard in 1909 that the Americans Frederick Cook and Robert Peary had claimed to reach the North Pole as a result of two different expeditions, he decided to reroute to Antarctica.[9] He was not clear about his intentions, and the Englishman Robert F. Scott and the Norwegian supporters felt misled.[9] Scott was planning his own expedition to the South Pole that year. Using the ship Fram ("Forward"), earlier used by Fridtjof Nansen, he left Oslo for the south on 3 June 1910.[9][10] At Madeira, Amundsen alerted his men that they would be heading to Antarctica, and sent a telegram to Scott, notifying him simply: "BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC--AMUNDSEN."[9]

Nearly six months later, the expedition arrived at the eastern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf (then known as "the Great Ice Barrier"), at a large inlet called the Bay of Whales, on 14 January 1911. He established his base camp there, calling it Framheim. Amundsen eschewed the heavy wool clothing worn on earlier Antarctic attempts in favour of adopting Inuit-style skins.[4]

Roald Amundsen

Using skis and dog sleds for transportation, Amundsen and his men created supply depots at 80°, 81° and 82° South on the Barrier, along a line directly south to the Pole.[4] Amundsen also planned to kill some of his dogs on the way and use them as a source for fresh meat. A small group including Hjalmar Johansen, Kristian Prestrud and Jørgen Stubberud set out on 8 September 1911, but had to abandon their trek due to extreme temperatures. The painful retreat caused a quarrel within the group, and Amundsen sent Johansen and the other two men to explore King Edward VII Land.

A second attempt, with a team made up of Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting, and Amundsen, departed base camp on 19 October 1911. They took four sledges and 52 dogs. Using a route along the previously unknown Axel Heiberg Glacier, they arrived at the edge of the Polar Plateau on 21 November after a four-day climb. On 14 December 1911, the team of five, with 16 dogs, arrived at the Pole (90° 0′ S).[n 1] They arrived 33–34 days before Scott’s group. Amundsen named their South Pole camp Polheim, "Home on the Pole." Amundsen renamed the Antarctic Plateau as King Haakon VII’s Plateau. They left a small tent and letter stating their accomplishment, in case they did not return safely to Framheim.

The team returned to Framheim on 25 January 1912, with 11 dogs. They made their way off the continent and to Hobart, Australia, where Amundsen publicly announced his success on 7 March 1912, and telegraphed news to backers.

Amundsen's expedition benefited from his careful preparation, good equipment, appropriate clothing, a simple primary task (Amundsen did no surveying on his route south and is known to have taken only two photographs), an understanding of dogs and their handling, and the effective use of skis. In contrast to the misfortunes of Scott’s team, Amundsen’s trek proved rather smooth and uneventful.

In Amundsen's own words:

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.
— from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen

Amundsen wrote about the expedition in The South Pole: an account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the 'Fram,' 1910–12 (1912).

Northeast Passage (1918–20)

The Polarship Maud in June 1918
Roald Amundsen in 1920

In 1918, Amundsen began an expedition with a new ship Maud, which was to last until 1925. Maud sailed west to east through the Northeast Passage, now called the Northern Route (1918–20).

With him on this expedition were Oscar Wisting and Helmer Hanssen, both of whom had been part of the team to reach the South Pole. In addition, Henrik Lindstrøm was included as a cook. He suffered a stroke and was so physically reduced that he could not participate.

The goal of the expedition was to explore the unknown areas of the Arctic Ocean, strongly inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's earlier expedition with Fram. The plan was to sail along the coast of Siberia and go into the ice farther to the north and east than Nansen had. In contrast to Amundsen's earlier expeditions, this was expected to yield more material for academic research, and he carried the geophysicist Harald Sverdrup on board.

The voyage was to the northeasterly direction over the Kara Sea. Amundsen planned to freeze the Maud into the polar ice cap and drift towards the North Pole (as Nansen had done with the Fram), and he did so off Cape Chelyuskin. But, the ice became so thick that the ship was unable to break free, although it was designed for such a journey in heavy ice. In September 1919, the crew got the ship loose from the ice, but it froze again after eleven days somewhere between the New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island.

During this time, Amundsen participated little in the work outdoors, such as sleigh rides and hunting, because he had suffered numerous injuries. He had a broken arm and had been attacked by polar bears.[13] Hanssen and Wisting, along with two other men, embarked on an expedition by dog sled to Nome, Alaska, despite its being over one thousand kilometres away. But they found that the ice was not frozen solid in the Bering Strait, and it could not be crossed. They sent a telegram from Anadyr to signal their location.

Captain Roald Amundsen at the wheel during the North Pole expedition, 1920

After two winters frozen in the ice without having achieved the goal of drifting over the North Pole, Amundsen decided to go to Nome to repair the ship and buy provisions. Several of the crew ashore there, including Hanssen, had not returned to the ship. Amundsen considered him to be in breach of contract, and as such, dismissed him from the crew.

During the third winter, Maud was frozen in the western Bering Strait. She finally became free and the expedition sailed south, reaching Seattle for repairs in 1921. Amundsen returned to Norway, needing to put his finances in order. He took with him two indigenous girls, the adopted four-year-old Kakonita and her companion Camilla. When Amundsen went bankrupt two years later, however, he sent the girls to be cared for by Camilla's father, who lived in eastern Russia.[14]

In June 1922 Amundsen returned to Maud, which had been sailed to Nome. He decided to shift from the planned naval expedition to aerial ones, and arranged to charter a plane. He divided the expedition team in two: one part was to survive the winter and prepare for an attempt to fly over the pole. This part was led by Amundsen. The second team on Maud, under the command of Wisting, was to resume the original plan to drift over the North Pole in the ice. The ship drifted in the ice for three years east of the New Siberian Islands, before it was finally seized by Amundsen's creditors as collateral for his mounting debt.

The attempt to fly over the Pole failed, too. Amundsen and Oskar Omdal, of the Royal Norwegian Navy, tried to fly from Wainwright, Alaska, to Spitsbergen across the North Pole. When their aircraft was damaged, they abandoned the journey. To raise additional funds, Amundsen travelled around the United States in 1924 on a lecture tour. Although he was unable to reach the North Pole, the scientific results of the expedition, mainly the work of Sverdrup, have proven to be of considerable value. Many of these carefully collected scientific data were first lost during the ill-fated journey of Peter Tessem and Paul Knutsen, two crew members sent on a mission by Amundsen. The scientific materials were later retrieved by Russian scientist Nikolay Urvantsev from where they had been abandoned on the shores of the Kara Sea.[15]

Reaching the North Pole

Roald Amundsen in Svalbard 1925

In 1925, accompanied by Lincoln Ellsworth, pilot Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, and three other team members, Amundsen took two Dornier Do J flying boats, the N-24 and N-25, to 87° 44′ north. It was the northernmost latitude reached by plane up to that time. The aircraft landed a few miles apart without radio contact, yet the crews managed to reunite. The N-24 was damaged. Amundsen and his crew worked for over three weeks to clean up an airstrip to take off from ice. They shovelled 600 tons of ice while consuming only one pound (400 g) of daily food rations. In the end, six crew members were packed into the N-25. In a remarkable feat, Riiser-Larsen took off, and they barely became airborne over the cracking ice. They returned triumphant when everyone thought they had been lost forever.

In 1926, Amundsen and 15 other men (including Ellsworth, Riiser-Larsen, Oscar Wisting, and the Italian air crew led by aeronautical engineer

  • Works by Roald Amundsen at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)
  • Works by Roald Amundsen at Internet Archive and Google Books (scanned books original versions color illustrated)
  • The South Pole Arthur G. Chater's 1912 translation (HTML)
  • Works by or about Roald Amundsen in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

Works by Amundsen

  • The Fram Museum (Frammuseet)
  • Arctic Passage at PBS' Nova features information about Amundsen
  • Roald Amundsen article at
  • Short biography from Norwegian Foreign Ministry
  • DIO vol.10 2000 Amundsen's unparalleled record of polar firsts, including evidence that he was 1st to each geographical pole.
  • Roald Amundsen At Find A Grave

External links

  • Amundsen, Roald;   First published in 1912 by John Murray, London.
  • Huntford, Roland (1985). The Last Place on Earth. London and Sydney: Pan Books.  


  1. ^ "Østfold county, Borge in Borge, Parish register (official) nr. I 6 (1861–1874), Birth and baptism records 1872, page 114.". Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Roald Amundsen and the 1925 North Pole Expedition". Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "Roald Amundsen". Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Thomas, Henry; Dana Lee Thomas (1972). Living Adventures in Science. Ayer Publishing. pp. 196–201.  
  5. ^ Amundsen, Roald (1927). My Life as an Explorer. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & company. 
  6. ^ a b The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography. Houghton Mifflin Reference Books. 2003. pp. 43 1696.  
  7. ^ a b Kingston, Thomas (1979). A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. U of Minnesota Press. p. 298.  
  8. ^ Roald Amundsen and the Exploration of the Northwest Passage. Oslo, Norway:  
  9. ^ a b c d Simpson-Housley, Paul (1992). Antarctica: Exploration, Perception and Metaphor. Routledge. pp. 24–37.  
  10. ^ Amundsen, Roald (1913). The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition... L. Keedick. p. 1. 
  11. ^ ) 1985The Last Place on EarthHuntford (, p. 511.
  12. ^ Amundsen, Vol. I, p. xvii.
  13. ^
  14. ^ See Roald Amundsen, Store Norske Leksikon. Accessed 17 April 2011.
  15. ^  
  16. ^ Henderson, Bruce (2005). True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole. W. W. Norton and Company.  
  17. ^ Rawlins, Dennis (January 2000). "Byrd's Heroic 1926 Flight & Its Faked Last Leg" (PDF). DIO, the International Journal of Scientific History 10: 69–76; also pages 54, 84–88, 99, 105.  
  18. ^ Rincon, Paul (24 August 2009). "BBC". BBC News. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  19. ^ "Search for Amundsen". Archived from the original on 8 January 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 


  1. ^ Some sources give the date as 15 December. Fram crossed the International Date Line shortly before arriving at the Bay of Whales, and thereby "lost" a day. Since the western and eastern hemispheres are conjoined at the South Pole, either date can be considered as correct, though Amundsen gives 14 December, both in his first telegraphed report on arrival in Hobart, and in his fuller account The South Pole.[11][12]



See also

  • Roald Amundsen's Belgica Diary. The first Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic by Hugo Decleir, Bluntisham Books, Erskine Press.
  • The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole by Roland Huntford, 1979.
  • Roald Amundsen, a full biography by Tor Bomann-Larsen, 2006, ISBN 0-7509-4343-2
  • Scott and Amundsen – Duel in the Ice by Rainer-K. Langner, Haus Publishing, London, 2007, ISBN 978-1-905791-08-8
  • The Last Viking – The Life of Roald Amundsen : conqueror of the South Pole by Stephen Bown, Aurum Press Ltd, London, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84513-844-8


  • Nordvestpassagen, 2-vols, 1907. Translated as The North-West Passage: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the ship "Gjøa" 1903–1907, 1908.
  • Sydpolen, 2-vols, 1912. Translated as The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram," 1910–1912, translated by A. G. Chater, 1912.
  • Nordostpassagen. Maudfærden langs Asiens kyst 1918–1920. H. U. Sverdrups ophold blandt tsjuktsjerne. Godfred Hansens depotekspedition 1919–1920. Gyldendal, Kristiania 1921.
  • Gjennem luften til 88° Nord (by Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and other members of the expedition, 1925). Translated as Our Polar Flight: The Amundsen-Ellsworth Polar Flight, 1925; also as My Polar Flight, 1925.
  • Den første flukt over polhavet, with Lincoln Ellsworth and others, 1926. Translated as The First Flight Across the Polar Sea, 1927; also as The First Crossing of the Polar Sea, 1927.
  • Mitt liv som polarforsker, 1927. Translated as My Life as an Explorer, 1927.

Works by Amundsen

Other tributes include:

Several ships are named after him:

A number of places have been named after the explorer:


In 2004 and in late August 2009, the Royal Norwegian Navy used the unmanned submarine Hugin 1000 to search for the wreckage of Amundsen's plane. The searches focused on a 40-square-mile (100 km2) area of the sea floor, and were documented by the German production company ContextTV.[18][19] They found nothing from the Amundsen flight.

Amundsen disappeared with five crew on 18 June 1928 while flying on a rescue mission in the Arctic. His team included Norwegian pilot Leif Dietrichson, French pilot René Guilbaud, and three more Frenchmen. They were seeking missing members of Nobile's crew, whose new airship Italia had crashed while returning from the North Pole. Afterward, a wing-float and bottom gasoline tank from Amundsen's French Latham 47 flying boat, adapted as a replacement wing-float, were found near the Tromsø coast. It is believed that the plane crashed in fog in the Barents Sea, and that Amundsen and his crew were killed in the crash, or died shortly afterward. None of the bodies were found. The search for Amundsen and team was called off in September 1928 by the Norwegian Government.

Amundsen monument in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, Norway
Roald Amundsen

Disappearance and death

expedition was the first to the North Pole, Amundsen and Oscar Wisting were the first men to reach each geographical pole, by ground or by air. Norge would be the first verified explorers to have reached the North Pole. If the Norge If their claims are false, the crew of the [17][16]

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