Birthday: July 16, 1872
Died At Age: 55
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen
Born in: Borge, Østfold, Norway
Famous as: The first person to reach the South Pole
father: Jens Amundsen
mother: Hanna Sahlqvist
Died on: June 18, 1928
place of death: Barents Sea
Cause of Death: Plane Crash
Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who became the first man to reach the South Pole when he successfully led an Antarctic expedition to the dangerous terrain on which no man had set foot previously. One of the greatest figures in the world of polar exploration, he was also the first one to traverse the Northwest Passage in the Arctic. Born to a family of Norwegian ship-owners and captains, traveling and exploring was in his blood. He dreamed of exploring the vast wildernesses and remote terrains in the world from a young age, inspired by the expeditions undertaken by the likes of Fridtjof Nansen and Sir John Franklin. However, as a youngster he could not chase his dreams as his mother made him promise that he would study medicine and become a doctor. He studied medicine for a while but quit on the death of his mother to pursue his childhood passion of traveling. Standing tall at over six feet in height and strongly built, he prepared himself for his future expeditions by sleeping with his windows open during the freezing Norwegian winters. His dedication paid off and within a few years he joined the ranks of the greatest explorers who ventured into the frigid geographic poles of the earth.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 16 July 1872 to parents Jens Amundsen and Hanna Sahlqvist as their fourth son in Borge, Norway. Several members of the family were involved in maritime trade and were ship-owners and captains.
Roald developed an interest in traveling and exploring while young which was not surprising given his family history. However, his mother did not want him to enter the maritime trade and wanted him to become a doctor.
Honoring his mother’s wishes, he enrolled at college to study medicine but quit after her death.
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He was deeply inspired by Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in 1845 and explorer Fridtjof Nansen's crossing of Greenland in 1888. Following his heart, he joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache in 1899; this became the first expedition to Antarctica in the winters.
In 1903, he led the first expedition to successfully traverse Canada's Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a treacherous route between the northern Canadian mainland and Canada's Arctic islands. The difficult expedition took three years to complete and they spent two winters at King William Island in the harbor of Nunavut, Canada.
During this time he learned several invaluable survival skills from the local Inuit people, including the use of sled dogs for transportation of goods and wearing animal skins for protection from cold.
Amundsen now planned to take an expedition to the North Pole and explore the Arctic Basin, in Fridtjof Nansen’s old ship, the Fram. This plan was, however, affected by the news that that American explorer Robert E. Peary had already reached the North Pole in April 1909. Thus he decided to secretly take his expedition to the South Pole instead.
He prepared very carefully for the journey, and set out with four companions, 52 dogs, and four sledges on 19 October, 1911. His team arrived at the edge of the Polar Plateau on 21 November, and a few days later, they reached the South Pole on 14 December, 1911.
At the South Pole the explorers collected scientific data before embarking on the return journey. They began their return journey on 17 December and reached their base at the Bay of Whales on January 25, 1912.
The success of this expedition brought him financial prosperity with which he built a successful shipping business. He began an expedition through the Northeast Passage in 1918, on a new ship named Maud. Explorers Oscar Wisting and Helmer Hanssen, both of whom had been part of the team to reach the South Pole, accompanied him again.
In 1926 he teamed up with 15 other men including Oscar Wisting, and an Italian air crew led by aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile to make the first crossing of the Arctic in an airship named Norge. They left Spitzbergen on 11 May 1926, and landed in Alaska two days later. The crew of the Norge became the first verified explorers to reach the North Pole as the prior claims of explorers like Robert Peary were disputed.
Awards & Achievements
In 1907, he received the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society for being the first explorer to transit the Northwest Passage.
The Charles P. Daly Medal which is awarded to individuals by the American Geographical Society (AGS) "for valuable or distinguished geographical services or labors” was presented to him in 1912.
Personal Life & Legacy
Amundsen never married though he was rumored to have been in several relationships.
On 18 June 1928 he was flying with a crew of five on a rescue mission in the Artic, seeking the missing members of Nobile's crew, whose new airship Italia had crashed while returning from the North Pole. The plane Amundsen was in disappeared and later some parts of their missing plane was recovered, leading to the belief that their plane had crashed. He along with his crew was presumed to have died in the crash though no bodies were found.
A number of places including Amundsen Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, Amundsen Glacier, in Antarctica, and Amundsen Bay, in Antarctica were named in his honor.