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The Mystery of Andree


How the Daring Balloonist Prepared For It.

The Idea of Going to the North Pole by Balloon a Hobby With Him for Years -- Backed by the King of Sweden--How the Balloon Was Carried to Spitzbergen and There Inflated--The Flight Northward.

Nothing has been heard of Professor Andree, who started in a balloon for the North Pole, accompanied by two companions, about three weeks ago. Two carrier pigeons were afterward picked up, with certain marks on the wings intended to give the impression that they were from the explorer, but it was soon made manifest that they had not come from him. Still later an object was seen in the White Sea by the captain of a vessel passing through there which, it was thought, might possibly be the Andree balloon but a high authority on aeronautics, Herr Siegsfeld,, declares this to have been impossible.

Mr. Machuron, who superintended the preparation for Andree's voyage, has returned to Paris, and also repudiates the idea that the White Sea balloon could have been Andree's, and adds that it is not impossible that Andree should be unheard of for a year.

Preparing for the Trip.

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.

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 a 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 support.

A Daring Balloonist.

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 airships 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 now to guide his ship. He sailed along the Baltic shore and sent his balloon against the 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 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 attempt. 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 La Chambre, an experienced aeronautical engineer of London. 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 network or parapet, which reaches four feet above the roof. There were 4400 pounds of weight in this car when it left Spitzbergen, 2975 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 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 ao 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 ice and snow.

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 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.

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:

Baltimore News, Baltimore, MD. July 31, 1897


Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas

Lesson(s) Related to This Article:

1. Balloon Innovations - Grades 5-9



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