Birthday: June 7, 1879
Died At Age: 54
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Knud Rasmussen, Knud J. Rasmussen, Knud Johan Victor Rasmussen
Born in: Ilulissat
Famous as: Explorer
mother: Lovise Rasmussen
siblings: Peter Lim Rasmussen
children: Hanne Rasmussen, Inge Thorborg, Niels Rasmussen
Died on: December 21, 1933
place of death: Copenhagen
Knud Rasmussen was a famous Danish polar explorer and anthropologist. Born in a remote outpost in icy Greenland, Knud grew up with Inuit children and soon mastered their language and traditional Arctic lifestyles. When his family returned to Denmark, Rasmussen settled down to finish his schooling and to contemplate a more conventional life. After a brief foray as an actor, he decided to join the spirit of the age, and embarked on an expedition to study the native people of Greenland and the Arctic. With his ability to speak their language, and having acquired an in-depth knowledge of their culture, he returned home and began touring the country, giving lectures and popular speeches about the Inuit people. He soon desired to return to Greenland and, together with a fellow polar explorer, established a trading post in the extreme north of the territory. Thirsty for more adventure, he soon began exploring all of Greenland and the greater Arctic Circle in an attempt to document, memorialize and chart the Inuit people's culture, language and migration patterns. Although never formally educated, Rasmussen's contributions to anthropology and polar exploration are recognized by academic authorities worldwide. He died having recorded and documented vast knowledge about the native people of the Arctic.
Childhood & Early Life
Knud Johan Victor Rasmussen was born on June 7, 1879 in Iliussat, Greenland. His father was Christian Rasmussen, a Danish missionary, and his mother was Lovise Rasmussen, a Danish-Inuit woman.
Knud had two siblings. As a child, he played with Inuit children and learned their language, Kalaalisut. Later, his family moved to the continent and he studied in public school in Lynge, North Zealand, Denmark.
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From 1898 to 1900, Rasmussen unsuccessfully tried to pursue a career as an opera singer and actor.
In 1902, he embarked on his first expedition, which later became known as 'The Danish Literary Expedition'. The purpose of the exploration was to investigate and document Inuit culture.
In 1904, he returned home and began touring the lecture circuit, talking about the expedition's discoveries. He published 'The People of the Polar North', a book about his adventures during the ‘Danish Literary Expedition’ four years later.
In 1910, he co-founded the ‘Thule Trading Station’ in Cape York, Greenland with his friend Peter Freuchen. The ‘Thule Trading Station’ was later used as the starting point for Rasmussen's seven polar explorations.
In 1912, he embarked on the ‘First Thule Expedition’ with Freuchen, to investigate whether or not a water channel divided Peary Land from Greenland. After traveling over 1,000 kilometers across the ice, the pair conclusively proved that the water channel did not exist.
In 1916, Rasmussen, Freuchen and five other men embarked on the ‘Second Thule Expedition’ to explore Greenland's northern coast. Two men died during the two-year journey, the only fatalities of Rasmussen's career.
In 1919, he departed on the ‘Third Thule Expedition’ to deposit food and vital supplies for Roald Amundsen, another polar explorer. Later the same year, he embarked on the ‘Fourth Thule Expedition’ by himself. Over the period of a year, he traveled across eastern Greenland, collecting ethnographic data on the Inuits.
He published 'Greenland by the Polar Sea', a book that documented his travels during the Second Thule Expedition, in 1921. Later the same year, Rasmussen embarked on the ‘Fifth Thule Expedition’, a massive five-year search to document the origins of the Inuit peoples.
In 1927, he published 'Across Arctic America', a book that detailed Inuit migration routes.
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In 1931, he embarked on the ‘Sixth Thule Expedition’. Rasmussen and his men were tasked with establishing the disputed border between Greenland and Norway.
In 1933, he embarked on the seventh, and his last, ‘Thule Expedition’. Unfortunately, he contracted pneumonia after an episode of food poisoning and died a few weeks later back at his home in Denmark.
Rasmussen was the first person of European descent to cross the Northwest Passage via dogsled. Together, his 15 volumes documenting Inuit life, culture and ethnic heritage remain one of the foremost authorities on the subject.
Awards & Achievements
Rasmussen was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the ‘American Geographical Society’ in 1912.
He was awarded the ‘Vega Medal’ in 1919 by the ‘Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography’ (SSAG).
He was awarded an honorary doctorate at the ‘University of Copenhagen’ in 1924 for his contributions to Inuit anthropology. The same year he was awarded the ‘Daly Medal’ by the ‘American Geographical Society’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Knud and his wife Dagmar Andersen married in 1908. They had three children: Inge Thorborg, Hanne Rasmussen and Niels Rasmussen
In 1946, a 10-volume series documenting Rasmussen's findings during the ‘Fifth Thule Expedition’ was posthumously published. The museums in Denmark house the artifacts discovered during the expedition.
‘Thule Trading Station’ in Cape York was so named because it was the most northerly trading post in the world. Thule is the name Greeks gave for the mythical frozen northern part of the world.
This famous explorer’s long-time friend and fellow explorer Peter Freuchen also married a woman named Dagmar.
In 2006, a movie was made based on his research entitled 'The Journals of Knud Rasmussen’. The film was shown at the opening of the ‘Toronto Film Festival’ the same year.