Facts About : Salomon August Andree's Polar Expedition 1897
In 1930, in a photographic laboratory in Stockholm, Sweden, everyone was excited. They were printing some photos but these were unusual photos. They had been taken 30 years before by a man who had disappeared. Slowly, the pictures became clear. They were the last pictures of Salomon Andree. How had Andree died? The pictures, and an old journal told the story. Salomon August Andree was a Swede. He was a clever engineer. He attended the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1874. He was also very interested in balloons. He had made many balloon flights. In 1897, he wanted to fly to the North Pole.
People said he was mad, “No,” said Andree. “I have studied all the problems. I have designed a special new balloon.” The new balloon design was very clever. It had a special steering system. Long ropes hung from the balloon, and trailed on the ground. These ropes controlled the height and speed of the balloon.Andree made careful plans. He would fly from Spitzbergen. This was only 1100 kilometres from the North Pole. Andree thought he would fly at 30 kilometres per hour. The trip would take only 43 hours. There was only one problem concerning money. Andree held a public meeting. Many rich people came, as well as many scientists. At first, they laughed at him. “You can’t fly to the Pole. You need sledges, dogs, camps….” but Andree had prepared answers. He had worked out all the details. The audience got impression. He really knew what he was talking about. His plans seemed very good.
King Oscar of Sweden gave 30,000 crowns. Alfred Nobel gave 130,000. Soon, Andree had plenty of money. He chose two other men. Dr. Nils Strindberg (a second cousin of playwright August Strindberg) was a meteorologist and photographer. Fraenkel was a aeronautical engineer. In France, the best balloon maker in the world, Lachambrel, was making the balloon. The balloon was demonstrated in December 1895. It was called the Ornen (The eagle). It was very big. It was 65 feet (about 22 metres) wide, and made of black silk. Lachambrel said, ”It is my masterpiece.” but the weather was bad. The wind was not reliable. The first attempt was a failure. Some of Andree’s financial supporters were worried. “The expedition is doomed”, they said.
In May, 1897, he tried again. A Swedish newspaper had paid a lot of money for the story of the flight. Andree said he would send reports by carrier pigeon. They sailed on a Swedish navy ship called Svenskund to a small island but the weather was very bad. The wind was blowing from the north, the wrong way. They waited two weeks. At last, a strong wind began to blow from the south. Andree decided to take off but he was worried. When the ship’s captain wished him good luck, Andree said, “I don’t have much confidence.” The great balloon filled with gas. It took off. “Long Live Sweden!” shouted the sailors. Everything went wrong. A few minutes after take-off, they hit the water. The balloon quickly went up again but Andree’s special “steering system” had been broken.
The balloon sailed slowly north and then it entered mist. The mist was thick and grey. They could see nothing. Strindberg made a meal of spaghetti. Andree checked the instruments. They were losing height! Why? Was the Ornen leaking ? Andree sent a message to the newspaper, by pigeon. He said “All is well” but the bird never arrived. Then he dropped a buoy with another message. The buoy was found two years later.
The Ornen sailed on but the weather was very bad. There was a strong wind, and rain. It was dark. They could not see how high they were. At 3.00 am, they hit the ground again. The three men quickly threw out all the weights. They even threw away their Swedish flag. Slowly, the Ornen went up and then stopped. One of the long ropes was caught on a rock and they were stuck. For thirteen hours they stayed still. The rope held them fast. The wind beat against the Ornen. At last, the rope came free but they had to throw away more food. Andree sent a last message. “All is well”, he said. They were very late. They had been flying for 66 hours. Then on July 14, they hit the ice again. This time the Ornen was finished. They unloaded all their stores. They had a small boat with them. They would try to go south, to a food store at Seven Island.
Due to the ice was moving and they were soon right off course. All three men became very tired and depressed, and Andree worried that Strindberg was going mad. All the time Andree wrote a full journal, and Strindberg took lots of photographs. They shot bears for food, and photographed them before eating them. Eight weeks later, they were still alive. The temperature was 9 degrees F. Their small tent was not enough. At night, they slept close together for warmth. Then they reached White Island. White Island is really an iceberg and is very dangerous. Fraenkel built a hut out of snow, but it fell down in the middle of the night. Andree began to have hallucination. He thought he could see land. He wrote, “We are floating towards and an island”. Strindenberg was the first to die. Andree and Fraenkel buried him. Then they went back into their hut.
Several expeditions tried to find Andree but they had no success. Then, in 1930, a Norwegian scientific ship came to White Island. Two men went onto the ice, to collect snow for water. First they found a cooking pot then a bag that was labeled “Andree’s Polar Expedition 1897”. The whole crew of the ship came to look. They found the canvas boat but no bodies. Where was Andree? Then the captain saw there was something inside the boat. It was covered with ice. Carefully the captain took away the ice and saw…..the face of Salomon Andree who had frozen since 1897.
Three newspapers quickly chartered another ship. They went back to look for Fraenkel. After a search they found his body then they found the journal. It was wet but readable. Last of all, they found Strindberg’s camera, complete with pictures. A huge crowd waited at Goteborg harbour. A ship arrived. It carried three coffins, each covered with a Swedish flag. The ship was the old Svenskund which had take Andree to Spitzbergen. The heroes of 1897 had come home.