Trudging across an uninhabited island in the Arctic Circle, a small group of seal hunters made a macabre discovery: the remains of three people. Alongside the deceased lay their sparse belongings and the remnants of a camp. It didn’t take the hunters long to realize that they had found a long-lost team of explorers. Yet as jarring as their discovery already was, what the hunters then found among the frozen explorers’ belongings cast a whole new light on their grim fate.
As late as the 1890s, the center of the Arctic was somewhere that, despite numerous attempts, no one had ever reached. Back then, many an adventurer wanted to be the first to stand at the top of the world. But efforts to successfully navigate to the North Pole had generally been made by dog-pulled sled or through icy waters on a boat. And every single one had failed.
Numerous expeditions came unstuck due to berg-filled seas or the area’s crushing ice floes, which had some crews frozen in place for many months. While some were eventually rescued, others never made it back. But even though the search for the North Pole was a dangerous business, that did little to deter certain explorers.
Getting through the ice
These repeated failures posed an intriguing dilemma for the curious — or foolhardy. If the sea is impassable and the ice too unpredictable, how best to get to the Pole? Step forward Salomon August Andrée. A Swedish engineer, Andrée felt that he’d hit upon the perfect solution to finally reach the North Pole.
An intelligent child
Andrée, born in 1854, originally came from the town of Grenna in Sweden. Reportedly an intelligent child, he went on to study at the country’s Royal Institute of Technology. Eventually, he would work for the Patent Office’s Technical Department as an engineer. This position soon gave Andrée the ability to travel, and his time abroad would prove very influential for the young engineer.