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The Mystery of Andree


The attempt of Explorer Andree to reach the North Pole by balloon will be regarded as a hare-brained exploit by many, but whatever may be the outcome of the expedition Andree will have earned the great distinction as an intrepid navigator of the air. It is idle to speculate upon the problematical quest. The voyageur has revived extraordinary interest in the art of aeronautics; whether he will unlock the baffling secret of the Pole remains to be seen. The distance to the Pole from his point of ascension is considerably less than has been accomplished by balloon under circumstances favorable for a long flight; but no precedent argues anything at all for the success of the Andree expedition. It is stated that nearly $36,000 has been spent upon the enterprise. The balloon itself cost $10,000, and it is doubtless the finest outfit of the kind ever constructed. No detail has been neglected in providing the airship with safety and scientific appliances. The balloon has a great lifting capacity, and will carry over two tons weight of ballast, including provisions for four months. Ingenious devices will be used to give direction, if possible, to the balloon's movements. The daring of the aeronauts and the extremely novel enterprise in which they risk their lives give to Andree's departure something of the interest which attended the sailing of Columbus's ships upon their immortal voyage. It is impossible, however, to suggest historic parallels to this curious journey.

It is possible to travel hundreds of miles by balloon, yet it is unsafe to predict the length of any balloon trip. The much-advertised project to cross the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool, which excited the country in the fall of 1873, proved to be a dismal fiasco, and since that year nobody has proposed an ambitious long-distance balloon voyage until the now famous Andree began preparations for his promised northward flight.

The most remarkable long distance balloon trip on record was that made by John Wise and two companions, in July, 1859, from St. Louis, Missouri, to Henderson, Jefferson county, New York. The distance is 1150 miles, and it was traversed in ten minutes less than twenty hours. A few days after the announcement of the completion of this long balloon voyage, a correspondent of the Public Ledger urged the Government to lend its aid in the construction of a balloon for a trip from San Francisco to St. Louis. He could see no reason why an aeronaut could not float 1700 miles (the distance from San Francisco to St. Louis) in thirty or forty hours with as much ease as the "Atlantic" sailed from St. Louis to Jefferson county, New York. This rhapsodist proceeded:

"Should the trial be made and prove successful, balloons can be built of several tons weight, and the conveyance of letters, passengers and gold will soon be a profitable business."

Sixty years ago Green, the English aeronaut, sailed in a balloon across the sea from London to Weilburg, Germany, for the purpose of discovering whether there were in high altitudes air currents moving in one direction. Green, on this occasion, journeyed from west to east 500 miles in 18 hours. In 1849 M. Auban traveled by night over the Alps from Marseilles to Turin, from west to east, 490 miles in eight hours. Among the quick balloon voyages recorded are those of Simmons, from Maldon, Essex (England) to Arras, 140 miles in 1 hour and 20 minutes, and M. L'Hoste from Boulogne to Romney in 1 hour and 30 minutes. Whether material progress has been made in guiding the flight of balloons is a debatable question. Andree's expedition may contribute something to the solution of the problem. The Public Ledger of July 9, 1859, commenting upon the long balloon excursion from St. Louis to New York State, above mentioned, said:

"'It is clear that we have before us the nearest approach to a successful attempt to guide the course of a balloon which has yet taken place, and this on the longest voyage of the kind on record. Out of the 360 degrees into which the circle is divided there was not a variation of ten degrees between the course undertaken and that actually accomplished. The tour also deserves notice. Eleven hundred consecutive miles are travelled (sic) over at a rate of a mile a minute, and letters reached New York by this means quite in advance of any information that could have come in any other way, except by telegraph."

Mr. Wise and his companions were caught in a fierce storm which drove the balloon across Lake Huron and it was finally wrecked in a forest. Mr. Wise and his fellow travellers (sic) making a narrow escape from death. It is to be hoped that Andree's magnificent airship will have a better fate and that the bold Arctic explorers may be able to make important contributions to our knowledge of the far North.

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



Original Source:

Philadelphia Public Ledger, Philadelphia, PA. July 19, 1896


Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas

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