July 11, 1897: Salomon August Andree’s balloon took off. SA Andree was born in Sweden in 1854 and was educated at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, graduating in 1874. His degree was in mechanical engineering. In 1876 he came to America where he worked as a janitor in the Swedish Pavilion at the Centennial Exposition. While in America, he read on book a trade winds and met with John Wise, an American balloonist. Thus began his fascination with balloon travel. He returned to Sweden and opened a machine shop which wasn’t entirely successful. He worked at the Royal Institute as an assistant and went on a scientific expedition in 1882-3 with Nils Ekholm. From 1885 until his death, we worked in the Swedish patent office.
This was not his first big balloon expedition, but the one the previous year was a failure. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as well as King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel supported the project – to balloon over the North Pole. The intended path for the hydrogen balloon’s travels was from Svalbard to either Russia or Canada and passing directly over the Pole. Andree ignored the dangers of the trip, the most basic was the necessity to steer the craft. They had implemented a drag rope method to attempt control, but it was ineffective – which was ignored. The balloon, Örnen (The Eagle), was delivered to the take off site directly and had never been tested. Regardless, Andree and his two associates, Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel, took off.
The balloon rose up and immediately lost two of the three ropes intended to be used for steering – an already inadequate method. Within ten hours of lift off, the team was caught in a storm with powerful winds and rain falling which turned to ice on the balloon. Also, the balloon was losing hydrogen much too fast and after only two days, it crashed on the ice pack. The three men were unhurt, but there was no rescue possible. They would have to walk back to civilization and they were ill-prepared for that eventuality. They were not properly clothed and they lacked the equipment needed to traverse the rough terrain, which they found to be overwhelming. They made it as far as the deserted island, Kvitøya (White Island) in Svalbard.
The fate of the three men was unknown for 33 years. In 1930, a chance discovery of their last camp was made and a media blitz brought Sweden some answers. The motives of the men involved have been the subject of much speculation and books and movies have been produced on the topic. When their frozen bodies were found, so was a journal and all were brought back to Sweden. The island is usually inaccessible but the summer of 1930 which was unusually warm. A few expeditions to the island were made in search of more clues. One of the items found was a tin box containing Strindberg’s undeveloped film as well as logbooks and maps. Their exact cause of death has been debated since they were found, but nothing is agreed upon. They only thing certain is that they did not make it over the North Pole.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. – Cecil Beaton
Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We must dare, and dare again, and go on daring. – Georges Jacques Danton
Also on this day: Terracotta Army – In 1975, the Terracotta Army is discovered.
Skylab – In 1979, Skylab disintegrated.
Pistols at Dawn – In 1804, the Hamilton-Burr duel takes place.
Culture – In 1893, Mikimoto Kokochi created a cultured pearl.