You can never underestimate the power of human curiosity. Without the work of brave explorers, there’s a chance many places on Earth would remain undiscovered to this very day.
When on July 11, 1897, Salomon Andrée, a Swedish balloonist and engineer, set off with two men to explore the North Pole in a hot air balloon named the Örnen (or Eagle), there were high expectations from many of the country’s elite. But as his journey began, trouble arose.
And it wasn’t until recently—once rolls of undeveloped film were found—that we finally learned the truth about this unbelievable expedition…
If not for the hard work of numerous brave explorers, many places on the planet would likely remain a mystery. One such place is the North Pole. In 1897, a Swedish engineer and balloonist named Salomon Andrée announced plans to head to the great white north to see what was hiding up there.
Then, on July 11, 1897, Salomon, along with two of his fellow countrymen, took off in a hot air balloon, built in Paris and nicknamed the Örnen (or Eagle), for the North Pole. There was also a great deal of pressure from the Swedish government, who backed the project, and Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize.
Much to the crew’s fright, it seemed as though the mission was doomed from takeoff. After making it partially through their journey, something went wrong. It wasn’t until recently discovered rolls of film were found that people uncovered the truth of what went wrong all those years ago…
When the hot air ballon was constructed by a French manufacturer, Salomon and his crew were led to believe it could withstand the harsh Arctic temperatures. Reality, however, would reveal some miscalculations…
To prepare for takeoff, the manufacturers brought a specialized station to inflate their balloon to Danes Island, Norway, some 400 miles north from Scandinavia. At first, everything seemed to be going as planned.
Not long after that, Salomon and his two-man crew were ready to begin their brave expedition to the then-unexplored North Pole. Almost instantly, however, things went, ironically, south…
Just moments after takeoff, two of the three steering ropes were lost. This was no small loss, either. In addition to being helpful for steering, they also weighed upwards of 1,000 pounds, and the sheer weight change caused the balloon the rise much higher than was previously anticipated.
Cruising at such a high altitude caused the hot air balloon seams to freeze and begin leaking gas. It’s unknown why Salomon, a balloonist, physicist, and engineer, didn’t decide to call the expedition right there. Instead, the doomed group continued on to the North Pole.
It has long been assumed that Salomon chose not to turn around for fear of being seen as a failure by those who expected so much from him on his expedition. In the end, however, embarrassment would be the last thing on his mind.
While the problems with the hot air balloon were critical, the ballooon still somehow managed to drift through the Arctic sky for three full days. The men were so worried about what could happen that none of them slept. Eventually, they crashed, and the balloon would never fly again…
Though Salomon and his crew were alive, they were suddenly stranded. Unfortunately for those three men, they were a long way from home, and they were trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth.
Fortunately, their hot air ballon was equipped with an emergency survival kit, without which they would’ve likely succumbed to the Arctic temperatures almost immediately. Amazingly, much of this was caught on film.
Their emergency survival kit contained sleds, snowshoes, skis, guns, and even a small boat. Thanks to these supplies, it’s estimated that the three men managed to survive in complete desolation for roughly two months. Furthermore, they knew of an emergency food depot some ways away, so they headed off in search of it.
Luckily, in addition to donations of beer, port, and Champagne courtesy of the trip’s sponsors, they’d also brought along a large amount of food on the balloon. Before long, though, the weight of the supplies started to slow them down, and they were forced to ditch many of them.
To compensate, the men decided to use the guns and other weapons to hunt for polar bears, seals, and even walruses. They hoped that hunting would be enough to sustain them on their long journey to safety.
Fortunately, much of the expedition was captured by its photographer, Neil Strindberg. At the time, he was utilizing a state-of-the-art cartographic camera that had been made to map the North Pole from the sky.
Rather than helping to map the previously unexplored territory, however, Neil’s camera became a way for the men to document their incredibly strenuous journey. Additionally, the men all kept journals of the expedition.
While Neil’s journal was the most personal, those belonging to Salomon and the third adventurer, Frænkel, specifically detailed where they were geographically. In the end, these details helped historians piece together their journey.
Prior to the discovery of the photos and journals in 1930, details about the doomed expedition were scant at best. While Salomon and his companions did not survive, the information revealed in those documents revealed something amazing…
Historians marveled at the sheer amount of distance the men were able to cover in such harsh temperatures, all traveling by foot, and all without much exploration experience prior to their expedition…
At one point, it appeared as though the men attempted to build a home in order to survive the temperatures. The plan for their abode, which can be seen below, only lasted for a few days before collapsing once the ice beneath it cracked.
Obviously, the three explorers never made it to the emergency food depot. Despite their valiant efforts, rescue was just too far away. Soon enough, all three had succumbed to the freezing temperatures.
Impressively, even through all of their torturous experiences, each of the men remained in high spirits. During his last days, Salomon recounted in his journal: “With such comrades, one should be able to manage under, I may say, any circumstances.”
For a long time, no one knew what happened to the brave explorers. Many wrongfully accused indigenous peoples of foul play. Thirty years later, however, the remains of the men were discovered and immediately brought back to Sweden for a proper burial.
The explorers’ belongings were then donated to local museums, with Neil’s photographs being placed in an exhibit at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm. Their story might have had a tragic ending, but nevertheless, their expedition was one for the ages.
What a tragic way for their expedition to turn out. Thanks to their loyal documentation, people are still learning lots from everything they saw.
Share this incredible expedition with your friends below!