Little Bits of History

South Pole or Bust

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 14, 2014
Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen

December 14, 1911: Roald Amundsen reaches the South Pole. The Norwegian explorer was born in Borge, Norway in 1872 into a family of ship-owners and captains. He was the fourth son and his mother encouraged him to leave the family business and become a doctor. The son promised his mother and kept that promise until she died. He was then 21 and immediately quit school and took to the sea. Inspired by Fridtjof Nansen’s crossing of Greenland in 1888, the now free young man followed a life course of intense exploration of the wildest places on Earth.

He joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 as first mate. The RV Belgica became the first expedition to winter in Antarctica when it became locked in the sea ice of Alexander Island. It is unknown whether this was planned or a mistake. Even though ill-prepared, the crew survived mostly due to Dr. Frederick Cook’s hunting for game and feeding the crew fresh meat, according to Amundsen. Fresh meat can prevent scurvy even when citrus fruits are lacking. Learning from this, Amundsen went on his next trip in 1903-06 which was the first expedition to successfully cross Canada’s Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific. He hoped to next reach the North Pole but heard that Cook and Robert Peary had reached that destination before him and so traveled South.

Robert Scott was also hoping to reach the South Pole and Amundsen sent a message to Scott from the ship Fram which the Norwegian was using to sail southward. Fram had been Nansens’s ship earlier and the historic vessel changed course at Madeira, a Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic. A telegram reached Scott saying, “BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC–AMUNDSEN.” About six months later, the ship reached the eastern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. It was now January 14, 1911. Amundsen set up a base camp and called it Framheim.

Rather than the heavy wool clothing favored by European explorers, Amundsen used Inuit-style methods including their type of clothing, dog sled, and skis. His group created a series of supply depots. A small group of men set out on September 8 but had to turn back. A second try was made and five men left base camp on October 19. They took four sledges and 52 dogs. They arrived at the edge of the Polar Plateau on November 21 after a four day climb. Finally, on this day, the five men and 16 dogs arrived at the South Pole. They arrived 33-34 days before Scott’s group. Amundsen’s group left a small tent and a letter stating their accomplishment. They managed to get back to Framheim on January 25, 1912 with 11 dogs. They left Antarctica and made their public announcement on March 7, 1912. Amundsen went on to more explorations and was lost in 1928, aged 55, on a rescue mission in the Arctic.

We must always remember with gratitude and admiration the first sailors who steered their vessels through storms and mists, and increased our knowledge of the lands of ice in the South.

Adventure is just bad planning.

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. – all from Roald Amundsen

Also on this day: Queen of Gems – In 1656, the first fake pearl was made.
Strong Men; Great Leaders – In 1751, the first military academy was begun in Austria.
Bushidō  – In 1702, the 47 Ronin avenge their daimyo.
Up, Up and Away – In 1782, the Montgolfier brothers took to the air in their flying balloon.

Going South

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2012

The first fly-over of the South Pole

November 29, 1929: The first fly-over at the South Pole takes place. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. was a naval officer and an avid explorer. He was also a navigator in early aircraft flights. He served in the US Navy during both World Wars. On May 9, 1926, Byrd and Floyd Bennett took a flight in a Fokker F-VII Tri-motor. Their trip was from Spitsbergen and back. The two claimed to have flown over the North Pole. Both were hailed as heroes. In 1958, Bernt Balchen cast doubt upon the feasibility of such an undertaking. Byrd’s diary was released in 1996 and the data included is different from the official report. It is still unknown if the duo actually reached the North Pole on that day. If not, Roald Amundsen and his crew made the trip just three days later.

Byrd next tried to cross the Atlantic in a specially modified plane. There was a contest afoot for the first to fly non-stop from the US to France. On a practice flight, the plane crashed and Bennett, once again the pilot, was severely injured. Byrd, slightly hurt, was still intent on getting across the Pond. While their plane was being repaired, Charles Lindbergh won the prize. Byrd, with a new pilot, still wanted to make the trip. They plane took off from East Garden City, New York on June 29, 1927 and made it to France. However, due to heavy cloud cover, they could not land in Paris and made a crash-landing in Normandy on July 1. No one was injured.

Byrd next took off for Antarctica. In 1928, with two ships and three planes at his command, he left for the great south siren. The race for the South Pole was as hot for that of the North. A base camp was set up on the Ross Ice Shelf and scientific expeditions were launched from that site. There were many ways to travel across the ice: snowshoe, dog-sled, snowmobile, and airplane.  All were used and photographs were taken of the wonderful landscapes. Geological data was collected. Constant radio communication was kept up throughout the summer. As winter approached, they hunkered down for the cold season.

With the next balmy summer, expeditions resumed. On this day, Byrd was in the plane with Bernt Balchen as pilot and with Harold June as co-pilot/radioman. Ashley McKinley was the photographer for the flight. The plane was a ford Trimotor and the flight lasted for 18 hours and 41 minutes. They had difficulty with maintaining altitude and had to dump any extraneous supplies to gain the Polar Plateau. They were successful and this time there was no doubt. They continued to explore for the rest of the arctic summer and returned home on June 18, 1930.

A static hero is a public liability. Progress grows out of motion.

Few men during their lifetime comes anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are deep wells of strength that are never used.

I paused to listen to the silence. My breath, crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. The wind vane pointed toward the South Pole.

My frozen breath hung like a cloud overhead. The day was dying, the night being born — but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. – all from Richard E. Byrd, Jr.

Also on this day:

Warren Commission formed – In 1963 the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.

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