Famous 20th Century Explorers

Right IconThis ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite 20th Century Explorers
 1 
Edmund Hillary
(One of the First Climbers to Have Reached the Summit of Mount Everest)
Edmund Hillary
6
Birthdate: July 20, 1919
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Auckland, New Zealand
Died: January 11, 2008
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the top of Mount Everest, as part of the British expedition led by John Hunt. Hillary also reached both the poles. He later served as an ambassador to Nepal and founded the Himalayan Trust to help the people of Nepal.
 2 
Jacques Cousteau
(Co-Inventor of the First Open-Circuit, Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus 'Aqua-Lung')
Jacques Cousteau
17
Birthdate: June 11, 1910
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France
Died: June 25, 1997

Jacques Cousteau was a French explorer, naval officer, filmmaker, conservationist, scientist, photographer, researcher, and author. Renowned for his exploration of various forms of life in water, Jacques Cousteau is credited with pioneering marine conservation and co-developing the Aqua-Lung, the first underwater breathing apparatus to achieve popularity and commercial success.

 3 
Sir Ernest Shackleton
(Anglo-Irish Antarctic Explorer)
Sir Ernest Shackleton
16
Birthdate: February 15, 1874
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Kilkea, Ireland
Died: January 5, 1922

Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is remembered for leading three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was a key figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. An expert in navigation, he had also been a part of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery expedition. He was knighted by King Edward VII for his achievements.

Recommended Lists:
 4 
Roald Amundsen
(Norwegian Explorer Who was the First to Reach the South Pole)
Roald Amundsen
11
Birthdate: July 16, 1872
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Borge, Norway
Died: June 18, 1928

Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer. Specialized in exploring the polar regions, Amundsen was an important figure of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, an era in the exploration of Antarctica. He disappeared in 1928 when he was involved in a rescue mission in the Arctic. Owing to his significant achievements in polar exploration, several places are named after him.

 5 
Ranulph Fiennes
(Explorer who became was the first person to get to the North and South Pole without flying and the first to cross Antarctica without driving)
Ranulph Fiennes
10
Birthdate: March 7, 1944
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Windsor, Berkshire, England
 6 
Chris McCandless
(American Adventurer Who Led a Nomadic Lifestyle and Trekked and Lived Alone through the Alaskan Wilderness)
Chris McCandless
13
Birthdate: February 12, 1968
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Inglewood, California, United States
Died: August 18, 1992

Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.

 7 
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke
(Science-Fiction Writer Known for His Novels: ‘Childhood's End’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘Rendezvous with Rama’)
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke
6
Birthdate: December 16, 1917
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Minehead, Somerset, England
Died: March 19, 2008
Sir Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his short story The Sentinel, which became the basis of the screenplay of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke spent the final years of his life in Sri Lanka and hosted shows such as Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.
 8 
Scott Fischer
(First American to Summit Mt. Lhotse)
Scott Fischer
4
Birthdate: December 24, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Muskegon, Michigan, United States
Died: May 11, 1996

American mountaineer Scott Fischer was known for scaling the highest peaks of the world, including Mt. Everest and K2, without using oxygen cans. He later became a mountain guide and co-launched his own adventure travel company Mountain Madness. He died in a blizzard while guiding a group of clients to Mt. Everest.

 9 
Jon Krakauer
(Journalist, Explorer, Writer)
Jon Krakauer
4
Birthdate: April 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts, United States

Best known for his bestselling novels such as Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer is not just an author who writes about the outdoors but is also a mountaineer himself. He was part of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which witnessed 4 of the team members dying in a storm.

 10 
Robert Falcon Scott
(British Royal Naval Officer and Explorer)
Robert Falcon Scott
11
Birthdate: June 6, 1868
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Plymouth, Devon, England
Died: March 29, 1912

Robert Falcon Scott was an explorer and Royal Navy officer. He is remembered for leading two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the second of which was the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although Scott and his companions died during the second expedition, they helped discover the first Antarctic fossils, which proved that the place was once forested.

 11 
Fridtjof Nansen
(Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the First High Commissioner for Refugees Appointed by the League of Nations)
Fridtjof Nansen
4
Birthdate: October 10, 1861
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Oslo, Norway
Died: May 13, 1930

Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian polymath who won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his post-war efforts after the First World War. A well-known explorer, humanitarian, and diplomat, Nansen achieved international fame for his attempt to reach the geographical North Pole during his Fram expedition. His techniques and innovations influenced a generation of succeeding Antarctic and Arctic expeditions.

 12 
Richard E. Byrd
(American Naval Officer and Explorer Known for His Expedition of the Antarctic Plateau)
Richard E. Byrd
4
Birthdate: October 25, 1888
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Winchester, Virginia, United States
Died: March 11, 1957

American naval officer Richard E. Byrd is remembered for his pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, using airplanes. Though he was awarded a US Congressional Medal of Honor for completing the first flight over the North Pole, it was later revealed that he had returned when he was 150 miles away from the destination.

 13 
Michael Rockefeller
7
Birthdate: May 18, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, United States
Died: November 19, 1961

The youngest child of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michael Rockefeller shunned his family’s legacy and decided to become an explorer. He went missing while on an expedition to the Asmat region of southwestern Dutch New Guinea and was declared dead 3 years later, raising speculations of cannibalism.

 14 
Matthew Henson
(African American Explorer Who Accompanied Robert E. Peary on Most of His Expeditions)
Matthew Henson
3
Birthdate: August 8, 1866
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Nanjemoy, Maryland, United States
Died: March 9, 1955

Orphaned, Matthew Henson began his journey as a cabin boy at age 12 and was later hired by Robert E. Peary as an attendant for his expeditions. He, along with Peary and 4 Inuit, were the first men to set foot on North Pole. The African-American explorer later won a Congressional Medal.

 15 
Peter Freuchen
(Danish Arctic Explorer, Author, Journalist and Anthropologist Who is Known for His Role in Arctic Exploration)
Peter Freuchen
3
Birthdate: February 20, 1886
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Nykøbing Falster, Denmark
Died: September 2, 1957
While one of his existing photos shows him dressed in the fur of a polar bear he killed himself, Peter Freuchen was a man of many skills. With a towering 6’ 7” frame, he rode across the Arctic and also fought against the Nazis after losing a leg to frostbite. 
 16 
Steve Fossett
(The First Person to Fly Solo Nonstop Around the World in a Balloon and in a Fixed-Wing Aircraft)
Steve Fossett
5
Birthdate: April 22, 1944
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Jackson, Tennessee, United States
Died: September 3, 2007

Apart from being the first solo balloonist to circumnavigate the world, Steve Fossett also competed the first non-stop solo flight across the world. The adventurer also owned a securities company. His plane went missing on a 2007 mission in western Nevada, and he was declared dead on the discovery of the wreckage.

 17 
Robyn Davidson
(Explorer, Writer)
Robyn Davidson
6
Birthdate: September 6, 1950
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Miles

Robyn Davidson is an Australian writer best known for her book Tracks, in which she wrote about her 2,700 km (1,700 miles) trek across the deserts of Western Australia using camels. As a teenager, she lived a bohemian life and has since traveled across the world. Her book Tracks won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980. 

 18 
Sylvia Earle
(The First Female Chief Scientist of the ‘U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’)
Sylvia Earle
15
Birthdate: August 30, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Gibbstown, Greenwich Township, New Jersey, United States
Sylvia Earle is known for her research on marine algae and she was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earle held the world record for the deepest untethered dive and was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet, in 1998. She also featured in Netflix Original documentary Seaspiracy.
 19 
Aloha Wanderwell
3
Birthdate: October 13, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Winnipeg, Canada
Died: June 4, 1996

Aloha Wanderwell was a Canadian-American explorer, aviator, author, and filmmaker. In 1927, she became the first woman to travel around the world in a Ford 1918 Model T, at the age of 21. When she was 16, she undertook a journey, in which she traveled across 80 countries. Wanderwell is also remembered for making films like My Hawaii. 

 20 
Ellen MacArthur
5
Birthdate: July 8, 1976
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Whatstandwell, England
 21 
Jean-Michel Cousteau
(French Environmentalist, Oceanographic Explorer, Film Producer, and Educator)
Jean-Michel Cousteau
6
Birthdate: May 6, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Toulon

Jean-Michel Cousteau is a French environmentalist, oceanographic explorer, film producer, and educator. He is also an ardent advocate of a world without nuclear weapons. Cousteau is also credited with founding an education organization and marine conservation called Ocean Futures Society. Inspired by his documentary Voyage to Kure, President George W. Bush took measures to safeguard the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

 22 
Tippu Tib
(Businessman)
Tippu Tib
3
Birthdate: 1832 AD
Birthplace: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Died: June 14, 1905
 23 
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia
(Russian Naval Officer and Archaeological Explorer)
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia
3
Birthdate: April 13, 1866
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Tbilisi, Georgia
Died: February 26, 1933

Russian naval officer and explorer Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich was the brother-in-law of the last emperor of Russia, Emperor Nicholas II. He played a significant role in the development of Russian military aviation during WWI. He spent his later life in exile in Paris and conducted many archaeological expeditions.

 24 
Junko Tabei
(Explorer, Mountaineer)
Junko Tabei
4
Birthdate: September 22, 1939
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Miharu
Died: October 20, 2016
 25 
Joshua Slocum
(First Person in Recorded History to Sail Around the World Single-handedly)
Joshua Slocum
3
Birthdate: February 20, 1844
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Mount Hanley, Canada
Died: November 14, 1909

Joshua Slocum was a seaman who became the first person to sail single-handedly around the world. He was also a noted writer and wrote a book about his journey, Sailing Alone Around the World; the book became an international bestseller. He disappeared in November 1909, during one of his sailing adventures. He was declared legally dead after a few years. 

 26 
Charley Boorman
(TV presenter)
Charley Boorman
10
Birthdate: August 23, 1966
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wimbledon, London, England, UK
 27 
Mike Horn
(Explorer)
Mike Horn
3
Birthdate: July 16, 1966
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Johannesburg
 28 
Alexandra David-Néel
(Belgian–French Explorer, Anarchist, Spiritualist, and Writer)
Alexandra David-Néel
4
Birthdate: October 24, 1868
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Saint-Mandé, France
Died: September 8, 1969

Alexandra David-Néel was a Belgian–French explorer, anarchist, spiritualist, Buddhist, writer, and opera singer. She is best remembered for traveling to important spiritual centers, including Lhasa, Tibet in 1924, when foreigners were forbidden from entering Lhasa. Alexandra David-Néel wrote more than 30 books and her teachings influenced people like Allen Ginsberg, Benjamin Crème, Jack Kerouac, Ram Dass, and Alan Watts.   

 29 
Charles de Foucauld
(French Soldier, Explorer, Catholic Priest and Hermit)
Charles de Foucauld
4
Birthdate: September 15, 1858
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Strasbourg, France
Died: December 1, 1916

Charles de Foucauld was a cavalry officer in the French Army in the late 19th century. He later became an explorer and geographer, eventually adopting the life of a hermit and a Catholic priest. He was assassinated in 1916 and is listed as a martyr in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. 

 30 
Frederick Cook
(American Explorer, Physician, and Ethnographer)
Frederick Cook
3
Birthdate: June 10, 1865
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hortonville, New York, United States
Died: August 5, 1940

Apart from being a qualified physician, Frederick Cook was also a passionate explorer. He was initially the surgeon on explorer Robert E. Peary’s team. He later created controversy by conflicting with Peary, saying it was him and not Peary who had first explored the North Pole, though his claims were denounced.

 31 
Gavin Menzies
(Explorer, Submariner, Historian, Writer)
Gavin Menzies
4
Birthdate: August 14, 1937
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London
 32 
Ejnar Mikkelsen
(Explorer)
Ejnar Mikkelsen
0
Birthdate: December 23, 1880
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Vester-Brønderslev, Denmark
Died: May 1, 1971
 33 
Ann Bancroft
(American Author, Adventurer and the First Woman to Finish a Number of Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic)
Ann Bancroft
5
Birthdate: September 29, 1955
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Mendota Heights, Minnesota, United States

Ann Bancroft grew up with a learning disability but later became a physical education teacher. She eventually quit her job and scripted history by becoming the first woman to reach the North Pole. She also led the first women’s group that reached the South Pole on skis.

 34 
Freya Stark
(British-Italian Explorer and Travel Writer)
Freya Stark
5
Birthdate: January 31, 1893
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 9, 1993

Freya Stark was an Anglo-Italian travel writer and explorer. One of the first non-Arabs to explore the southern Arabian Desert, Stark penned down over 24 books on her travels in Afghanistan and the Middle East. She also wrote many essays and autobiographical works. In 1968, Freya Stark embarked on her last expedition to Afghanistan at the age of 75.

 35 
Walter Bonatti
(Mountaineer Known for Solo Climb of 'Aiguille du Dru')
Walter Bonatti
3
Birthdate: June 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bergamo, Italy
Died: September 13, 2011

Walter Bonatti was an Italian explorer, mountain climber, and journalist. He made a solo climb of a new route on the southwest pillar of the Aiguille du Dru in August 1955, among other achievements. He retired from mountaineering at the age of 35 and pursued a career as a reporter. He also wrote several books on mountaineering.    

 36 
Vilhjalmur Stefansson
(Canadian Explorer Known for Exploring the Arctic)
Vilhjalmur Stefansson
3
Birthdate: November 3, 1879
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Manitoba, Canada
Died: August 26, 1962

Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a Canadian-born Arctic explorer. He studied anthropology at Harvard University and set off on extensive travels. He did archaeological research in Iceland and went on an Anglo-American Polar Expedition with Ejnar Mikkelsen and Ernest de Koven Leffingwell. He organized and directed a major Canadian Arctic Expedition in the 1910s. He had an affair with novelist Fannie Hurst. 

 37 
H. Saint John Philby
3
Birthdate: April 3, 1885
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Badulla, Sri Lanka
Died: September 30, 1960
 38 
Knud Rasmussen
(Greenlandic–Danish Polar Explorer and Anthropologist)
Knud Rasmussen
2
Birthdate: June 7, 1879
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Ilulissat, Greenland
Died: December 21, 1933

Knud Rasmussen was a Greenlandic–Danish polar explorer. He was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled. Also an anthropologist, he is often referred to as  the "father of Eskimology." As a young man,  he pursued an unsuccessful career as an actor and opera singer before embarking on his major explorations. 

 39 
Sir Francis Chichester
3
Birthdate: September 17, 1901
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Barnstaple, England
Died: August 26, 1972
 40 
Edward Whymper
(Mountaineer)
Edward Whymper
3
Birthdate: April 27, 1840
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
Died: September 16, 1911
 41 
Sven Hedin
(Swedish Geographer, Topographer and Explorer Who Published Books About His Travels All Over Asia and the Middle East)
Sven Hedin
3
Birthdate: February 19, 1865
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Died: November 26, 1952

Sven Hedin was a Swedish topographer, geographer, photographer, explorer, illustrator, and travel writer. He is best known for making four expeditions to Central Asia. He later shared his experience in a book titled From Pole to Pole. A respected explorer, Hedin was honored with several prestigious awards and medals during his lifetime.

 42 
Roy Chapman Andrews
(American Explorer, Adventurer and Naturalist Known for His Discovery of First-Known Fossil Dinosaur Eggs)
Roy Chapman Andrews
3
Birthdate: January 26, 1884
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States
Died: March 11, 1960

Roy Chapman Andrews was an American adventurer, explorer, and naturalist. He is best remembered for his association with the American Museum of Natural History where he also served as the director. Andrews is credited with bringing to the museum the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. His life and career are said to have inspired George Lucas' famous character, Indiana Jones.

 43 
Edward John Eyre
2
Birthdate: August 5, 1815
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Whipsnade, England
Died: November 30, 1901
 44 
Frederick Selous
3
Birthdate: December 31, 1851
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: London, England
Died: January 4, 1917
 45 
Nicholas Briggs
(Explorer, Actor, Voice actor, Composer, Film director, Screenwriter)
Nicholas Briggs
4
Birthdate: September 29, 1961
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: London
 46 
Maurice Herzog
(French Administrator and Mountaineer Who Led the Expedition that Scaled the Annapurna Peak for the First Time)
Maurice Herzog
2
Birthdate: January 15, 1919
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lyon
Died: December 13, 2012

Maurice Herzog was a French administrator and mountaineer. He is best remembered for leading the French Annapurna expedition in 1950, which scaled the Annapurna peak of over 8000m for the first time. Maurice Herzog reached the peak along with Louis Lachenal and wrote a best-selling book titled Annapurna after his return.

 47 
Francis Younghusband
(Army Officer)
Francis Younghusband
2
Birthdate: May 31, 1863
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Murree, Pakistan
Died: July 31, 1942
 48 
Peter Habeler
(Austrian Mountaineer Who Completed the First Ascent of Mt. Everest without Supplemental Oxygen)
Peter Habeler
2
Birthdate: July 22, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mayrhofen

Austrian mountaineer Peter Habele teamed up with Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner to become the first to scale Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. He also scripted history as the first European to climb the Yosemite’s Big Walls. He has also been a skiing instructor and later launched a mountaineering school.

 49 
Frank Worsley
(Sailor, Explorer)
Frank Worsley
0
Birthdate: February 22, 1872
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Akaroa, New Zealand
Died: February 1, 1943
 50 
Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi
(Italian Mountaineer, Explorer and Duke of the Abruzzi)
Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi
2
Birthdate: January 29, 1873
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Madrid, Spain
Died: March 18, 1933

The son of Spanish king Amadeus, Prince Luigi Amedeo, also known as the Duke of the Abruzzia, was a passionate mountaineer and explorer, who scripted history by becoming the first to climb Mount St. Elias in Alaska. He also conquered the world’s second-highest peak, K2, and even explored parts of Africa.