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Intrepid Explorer's Wonderful Balloon Trip in Search of the North Pole.

How He Conceived the Novel Idea.

Wild Flight of Three Men -- Four Places of Possible Landing Selected -- History of the Daring Voyager's Scheme.

Professor S. A. Andree's trip by balloon in search of the North Pole is the result of twenty-one years' study. Some English savants have characterized his novel attempt as "daring, but not scientific;" but such men as Baron Nordenskjold, Albert Nobel, Baron Oscar Dickson, and even Chief Melville, of our own country, have had faith in the expedition, and the intrepid explorer and his two daring companions have theoretically demonstrated that it was possible. Even Chief Moore, of the United States weather bureau, said last week that the atmospheric conditions prevailing in the Arctic regions at the time of Andree's departure were favorable to his plan.

If Andree has, by this time really discovered the pole, he has fittingly celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the search for the mystery of the great unknown north, for it was in 1497 that Cabot, the English explorer, turned his ship's head into Baffin's Bay in an attempt to duplicate the wonderful discovery of America, five years before, by Columbus, and to sail to China by a northern route. He found what Norsemen had found centuries before, Greenland. He did not proceed far north, but led the way for scores of hardy men to follow, many of whom have but ice hummocks for their grave monuments. And if the honor for discovering the pole really does fall to Andree, it is but fitting, as his ancestors and his ancestors' ancestors knew Iceland when it was green, and knew the Arctic regions as we know Pennsylvania today. But greatest of all will be the triumph of air navigation.

Scheme Born in Philadelphia.

It was on a journey that Andree made to Philadelphia in 1876 to visit the wonders of the Centennial Exposition that he developed the theory of long balloon voyages. He was a young man then, but greatly interested in air navigation and advanced science, and it was to put himself in touch with the latest discoveries in science that he made his visit to Philadelphia. While crossing the ocean he was struck with the regularity of the trade winds, and this led him to reflect on the possibilities of a trip from America to Europe.

A Daring Balloonist.

Andree was an audacious theorist; he was of the stamp that less enthusiastic people call dreamers. Acquaintances with whom he attempted to discuss the possibilities of an America-Europe voyage, in Philadelphia, laughed at him. He went back to his Swedish home with the project growing in his mind. He knew it would take thousands of dollars, and he was only a young man of theories. He was but 22 years of age when he visited Philadelphia, and unmarried as he has always remained on account of his widowed mother, of whom he is the sole companion. The two are so attached to each other that it was with some difficulty that Madam Andree could be kept from going to Spitzburgen (sic), even to accompany him on his perilous trip.

Andree experimented with balloons at the beginning of his adventurous career. His holidays were devoted to the art and his evenings to drawing plans of air ships and thinking out new appliances. He planned the balloon sail which he is now using on this pole trip, and he also conceived the drag ropes which he is using to guide his ship. He sailed along the Baltic shore and sent his balloon against cliffs to test lowering and rising.

Four years ago he made his highest ascent. It was at Gothenburg, and his balloon shot up 6000 feet or a little over a mile in the first half hour but it did not stop there up and up it went until Andree was five miles from the ground. He struck zero at three miles and would have fainted but for his foresight in taking along a can of oxygen, which he inhaled through a rubber tubing.

On October 19, 1893, Andree crossed the Baltic sea at a height of two miles from the water. He has had several narrow escapes with his life, and during a trip from Gothenburg to Gotland had only one bottle of beer and two sandwiches, which had laughingly said would be sufficient. He suffered greatly from thirst and hunger. Four times he was nearly drowned. Twice he broke a leg, twice a shoulder blade, once an arm and once his nose. This is the man who dares an Arctic trip.

King of Sweden Backing Him.

When he made public his plans to reach the pole a few years ago, the story was credited to some enterprising newspaper man. In the first place Andree figured out that it would cost $36,000 to make the trip. His plans he confided to Baron Nordenskjold, the celebrated Arctic explorer, who in turn interested the King of Sweden. King Oscar subscribed the greater part of the requisite sum out of State funds, and this assured the attempt.

The next move was to secure the construction of a balloon after Andree's plans. The big bag cost $10,000, and the work was done by M. Henri Le Chambre, an experienced acronautical (sic) engineer of London (sic). The balloon is not so large as some that have been made. It has a diameter of 67 feet, and from top to the bottom of the basket is 97 feet. Its volume is 162,396 cubic feet, and is constructed of Chinese pongee silk, which will stand a tensile stress of two tons to the square inch. The upper part of the balloon has three thicknesses of this silk, and the lower part but two, the difference being thought necessary to protect the big bag from the sun's rays. The Arctic sun shines until August 24 this year. The thicknesses were glued together and sewed, and then thoroughly varnished inside and out. Enclosing the balloon is the net, the strands of which are nearly two inches in thickness. The weight of the balloon, without accessories, is almost exactly one ton.

Living In the Clouds.

The fearless voyagers are traveling in a small suspended house, four and a half feet from roof to roof, and six feet from side to side, constructed of wicker work. Six hempen cords, nine feet long and an inch and a half thick, suspend the car from the balloon, and entwined with these running around in circular form are six cords that form a net work or parapet, which reaches four feet above the roof. There were 4,400 pounds of weight in this car when it left Spitzbergen, 2,975 pounds of which was sand.

The little cottage, about the size of a girl's playhouse, that the three explorers were to live in is a marvel of abbreviated space. In it are stored provisions, live pigeons, instruments, ammunition and what not. There is also a bedstead for one person, it being Andree's plan that one shall sleep while two will be on the watch with powerful telescopes and instruments to tell civilization what there is at the pole. There are little windows in the side and a small hole in the floor.

The observers will stand on the roof of the car, but will be protected by the net work parapet. The thermometers, barometers, sextants, an altazimuth, an anemomoter, an instrument for determining the direction and velocity of the clouds, one for recording the intensity of sunlight, another for showing the true horizon, compasses, a magnetometer, a theodlite and two photograph cameras are suspended to a ring just above their heads. From the larger ring hangs a confusing mesh of rope-work which contains about 300 pockets in which are stored various articles of food and necessity.

Cooking His Meals.

The explorers had arrangements for warm meals three times a day. For cooking, an apparatus will be dropped down fifteen feet through the hole in the floor and a small oil lamp lighted from above by a pull of a string. After the beefsteak is cooked, a pull on another string will put the fire out. Then the food will be pulled up and eaten. This precaution is taken to preclude any possibility of the balloon catching fire. The cooking apparatus was invented by a Swedish engineer purposely for Mr. Andree.

The explorers had with them a patent collapsible boat, so that, if they were dropped into the water they could immediately pull the boat out, accordion-like, and paddle to the nearest iceberg. The car was also so arranged that if they cared to, it could be detached from the balloon almost instantly.

Steering the Balloon.

It was not Andree's purpose to stay at any great height. He wanted to keep close to the earth--500 feet if he could--to better study the topography of the country. He started with a south wind but, as General Greely says, it can hardly be expected that this wind will keep up straight for the 600 or 700 miles to get to the pole. But the far-sighted and resourceful Andree provided for this. He invented a steering apparatus, which is a wonderful thing. He took three heavy hawsers of varied length, the shortest being 1,000 feet long, or a fifth of a mile, and the longest 1,400 feet. On the bottom of these he placed a weight--just enough to keep the rope closely to the ground. These ropes hang from the bearing ring that is just above the car and drag along the ice, or in the water, as the case may be. As these ropes drag along they are shifted by the voyagers as they will, so that their weight and hold on the balloon would affect their course in one way or the other.

Sails to help the Air Ship Along.

Rigged from the top of the car to the mouth of the balloon inside the net are two sails, which are stretched on bamboo poles, and which present an area of 94 square yards, or a quarter of the cross section of the hanging net, to the wind, The sails are attached by three straps to the large iron ring, so that Mr. Andree has only combined the common principle of being lifted into the air by balloon and forced along with the air current, but by his sails obtains speed, and by his dragging ropes, steering.

From his experiments Andree said he was confident that he could steer his balloon at an angle of 45 degrees, so that with either a southwest or southeast wind he could steer to the pole. It was said in the cable dispatches describing Andree's departure that these steering ropes had been left behind in the hurry of embarkation. It was subsequently learned that he had plenty of other rope in his basked which he could easily rig up.

In case one of these ropes should catch in an ice crevice and threaten to wreck the balloon, or even to hold it stationary, Mr. Andree will clamp on the rope a cylindrical metal tube, in which are two sharp knives on a spring. This will slide down to where the rope is fast to earth and a sudden jerk on the twine that governs the knives will cut the drag-rope free. This is very similar to the instrument which is used by the Life Saving Station crews along the Atlantic coast to cut free a breeches buoy line from a wreck.

Start From Frozen Spitzbergen.

Andree, after much map studying, decided to make his departure from Spitzbergen, a hamlet that has scarce an inhabitant for each letter of its name, on the Danes Islands, 400 miles off the most northern coast of Norway. He selected this place because a south wind, if it carried him across the pole, would land him in Alaska or Siberia in the neighborhood of Bering Straits.

The islands are covered with ice and abound with high cliffs. Two hundred years ago Spitzbergen was a favorite haunt for whalers, but the whales have been killed off in that region so that now scarce any one visits there. It was here that Andree erected his balloon house in which the balloon was kept already filled until there came a favorable time for the start.

The house was constructed by Ivan Svedberg and a crew of sailors. It is an octagonal, wooden building, 23 feet eight inches across, and 65 feet seven inches high. Each story consisted of a framework composed of eight vertical frames, connected by a horizontal frame. Four such structures were placed one above the other. The walls were formed of sides composed of wood and fabric. A gallery ran around the building near the top. From here the balloon was raised, when the car was fastened on below just before the departure. A roof of fabric helped hold the balloon down and also offered protection from the snow and rain.

Carrying the Balloon Up.

The balloon was taken by steamer to Spitzbergen in 1896, and there on the banks of one of the small rock-reared fjords that abounds it was inflated. For this purpose the steamer carried 35 tons of sulphuric acid to generate the hydrogen. Divers (sic) things combined to prevent Andree's departure that year. One was that the balloon was found to leak so it was strengthened. It was this leak that scared Dr. Nils Elkholm out of going on the trip.

The balloon was also enlarged by cutting it in two and piecing it out. When inflated this year it was found that the leakage was comparatively nothing. The work of inflation began June 19 and was finished June 22, it having taken 89 hours.

The start of the intrepid three was dramatic. The party was living on board the steamer Svenskund -- Andree nervously awakening every morning to look for his cherished south wind. Heavy, dark clouds had made Saturday almost like a night, and an icy rain made the night one of misery. Sunday morning, though, was a beautiful day. The clear, blue sky and glowing sunshine made it ideal for Andree, for through it all a violent south wind raged. This was July 11, 1897.

The Flight for the Pole.

At shortly before noon Andree went ashore with the party and let loose several small balloons to accurately test the direction of the wind. It was satisfactory. He ordered the sailors to tear down the north shed of the balloon house as quickly as possible. This did not take long, for the sections were simply dropped. The basket was quickly fastened and a few additional stores put in. He then fervently shook hands with those about him, and with a few words of direction climbed into the basket. Dr. Strindberger (sic) and Dr. Fraenkel, his two daring companions, followed in through the ropes. The ropes were cut, and with a shout to Sweden and King Oscar the "Eagle" rose 200 feet. Then it was dashed nearly into the sea, but soared up high and was soon out of sight. It was the most daring trip ever begun.

Andree's Forecast of His Trip.

Just before Andree left he dictated a message to the Copenhagen (Denmark) Aftonblatet, in which he said: "We shall probably be carried in a northeasterly direction." He had figured out his probable course to a nicety. He had about 700 miles to go to reach the pole and about 1,200 miles more before he would be where it would be advisable to land. His balloon left Spitzbergen going at he rate of 22 miles an hour, which would mean his arrival at the pole in 32 hours, or about 10 o'clock Monday night, July 12. This would not interfere with observations, however, as there is no night at the pole just at this time of year, so that the explorer had daylight.

He said himself as to his time: "We shall be three weeks or even more. I would rather not do it so quick because of our observations."

In the beginning of July, two years ago, Nansen's Fram had in the polar basin the identical winds with which Andree left Spitzbergen. Dr. Nansen also confirmed another important fact for Andree, and that was that there are no highlands up to the 86th degree of latitude, so the explorers will not have to consume any great amount of gas to lift them over any mountain ranges.

Probable Points of Landing.

The explorers had decided that they would go in one of four directions:

First. That the balloon would land in Sberia (sic) in about latitude 70 north and longitude 135 east.

Second. It may land on the Samogehan Peninsula, in latitude 70 north, longtude (sic) 70 east. This is in the vicinity of the Gulf of Obi, in the northeastern part of Russia.

Third. It may land in the vicnity (sic) of Point Barrow, Alaska, in latitude 70 north, and longitude 155 west, where there is a United States government station. Point Barrow is about 600 miles northwest of the new Klondyke gold regions, and about the same distance from the mouth of the Yukon river or about 500 miles from Bering Strait. It is almost opposite Spitzbergen.

Hoped to Land in Alaska.

This direction is what Andree characterized, in his address before the Society of Antropology and Geography, in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 26, 1897, as "the desired way." He gave his reasons in substance as follows:

"This part of the world is not now so nearly desolate and uninhabited as it was when the Franklin expedition perished. Ever since 1889, American vessels have been stationed about the mouth of the Mackenzie river for hunting purposes, and twelve to fifteen ships pass the winter there with 400 or 500 persons aboard. Along the coast of Alaska are to be found more or less civilized Indians and Esquimaux. In the interior of Alaska there are a great number of gold diggers."

Andree had a fourth possible route, viz.: That the balloon may land in British North America in latitude 67 north, longitude 100 west, which is in the vicinity of Melville Sound.

Fickleness of the Wind.

Landing at the points at an angle to the pole would not necessarily mean that Andree did not cross the pole, because the topographical and astronomical charts of the Arctic show that he might be carried from Spitzbergen, across the pole and landed in British America because the winds blow in a circle much after the fashion of the Gulf stream of the Atlantic ocean.

In estimating the value of the winds that bore Andree away two facts must be taken into consideration. In the first instance, because a south wind was registered at Spitzbergen, it does not follow that the wind will continue in a straight northerly direction for the 700 miles necessary to take Andree to the pole. At a distance of 300 miles (to be generous) the direction and force of the wind may both change. This seems to have proof in the cyclonic systems of the middle latitudes, with which we are conversant, where a marked alteration of the course is the rule for 200 to 300 miles. Some have queried. What if Andree is cast on the Arctic region, how will he ever return alive? Of course, this is one of the chances that all explorers have taken. If he and his two companions perish, it will add but three names to the list of daring men who have braved Arctic perils to find the Polar Sea. But Andree has provisions for four and a half months with him, and even if his balloon should let him down he and his companions have a good fighting chance for life.

A Reported Sighting of the Balloon.

A fact that did not find general newspaper circulation is that on August 11 Indian Superintendent Vowell, of British Columbia, telegraphed to the Canadian government at Ottawa that credible information had been received from two Indian parties, separated by a considerable distance, at the time of observation, that a balloon (Andree's of course, if a balloon had been seen) had been sighted in latitude 65 degrees, 15 minutes, and west longitude 127 defrees (sic), 40 minutes. They said that the balloon was pursuing a nearly northerly course. The point indicated by the figures is in the mountainous region of Great Bear Lake, about 300 miles south of the Arctic Ocean and in the neighborhood of the middle course of the Mackenzie River, in the latitude of Davis Strait. The air line distance from this point to Spitzbergen is 3,150 miles, and the direction from Spitzbergen considerably south of west. The wind may have swerved him south from the pole, or, in the circles of winds, may have carried him over the pole and is now carrying him back again.

Balloons have been known to make very fast time. July 1, 1859, Wise and La Mountain sailed from St. Louis, Mo., and landed the following afternoon at Henderson, Jefferson county, N.Y., having traveled 1,150 miles in 19 hours and 50 minutes, a speed of 57 miles in (sic) hour.

Authentic news from Andree may be expected at any time.

Previous Notable Journeys.

The latest and most notable journey to the pole was that of Nansen's. He reached the farthest point north, 86 degrees, 13.6 minutes. In the Fram he passed east under Nova Zembia and continued as far as the Liakov Islands, and then catching the ice drift that he expected would take him to the pole, was circled around to the west toward the pole intending to cross the pole in much the same direction as indicated by Andree's route No. 3, and come out between Spitzbergen and Greenland. He found that the drift would take his boat some distance south, toward Spitsbergen (sic), so with a companion left the boat, intending to make a dash to the pole and get back to intercept the Fram. He missed the boat on his way back and was found by an English expedition sent out by Alfred Harmsworth, editor of the London Daily Mail, on Franz Josef Land. Another notable expedition was that of the steamer Jeanette, sent out in 1880 by the New York Herald and commanded by Lieut. Commander George W. De Long, U.S.N. the boat entered through Bering Straits, and after being carried round and round by the ice, was, on June 12, 1881, crushed to pieces near Bennett Island, named after the Herald's proprietor, north of the Liakov Islands.

Baron Nordenskjold, Andree's adviser, who has helped him make his balloon trip, in 1878 entered the Arctic at North Cape, the most northern point of Norway, and passed east under Nova Zembla, then took the coast line and came out in Bering Straits. His ship was the Vega. The American expedition all went up the American side. Those of General Greely, Lieut. Lockwood, Sergt. Brainard, Lieut. Peary are very notable, and with many others will always be held up to the credit of America and its brave Americans.

Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.


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Original Source:

Burlington Evening Gazette, Burlington, IA. July 28, 1897

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Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas

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