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The Mystery of Andree


No Definite Word Has Been Heard From the Explorer for Nearly a Year.

By Evan Mergthal.

A year in the clouds. That is the fate of Herr Andree.

On July 11, 1897, Salomon August Andree started for the north pole in a balloon. He took with him two companions, Nils Strindberg and Knut Hjalmar Ferdinand Frakel (sic).

The Three explorers



It was the most daring exploit in the history of arctic adventure. For years Andree had been known as a balloonist and a student of the air. Two years before he had notified King Oscar of Sweden that with the proper facilities he could reach the north pole in a balloon and after investigation King Oscar donated 5,000 krones (sic) to the enterprise and the Swedish Geographical society made up the rest.

The start was made from Dane's Island near Spitzbergen, which is a rocky island in the Arctic Circle. It took place July 11, 1897, or just a year ago. A large number of balloon enthusiasts made a journey from Europe to see the balloon start on its voyage.

Herr Andree had personally superintended the transportation of the balloon and had stored it with provisions to last 11 days. His plan was to reach the pole within 24 hours, make observations and return the next day, getting back to Dane's Island within three days.

In case a westerly wind continued to blow he would continue west and would cross the pole and come down to San Francisco, landing there in three days.

When Andree was ready to start he shook hands with his friends and stepped into the car. His companions stepped in after him. The great sphere was loosened, the ballast was thrown out, and the balloon started upward. As it shot into the air Andree shouted, "In the name of my colleagues, I send you our warmest greeting to our country and friends."

Balloon floating away



That was the last seen of him. Although many expeditions have sailed to find him none have been successful. If he reached the pole he found it impossible to return. Or did he fail to reach the pole at all? Did his balloon collapse and precipitate him in the ice floes of the Arctic sea? Did he cross the pole, as many have claimed, successfully and, starting on his westward journey, intending to encircle the earth, fail to find land again? What became of him? Is he alive, and if so, where is he? Did he die and if he did where is his body?

Previous to his attempt to reach the pole Andree had made so many ascensions that he was by no means a novice for the air.

He was at one time chief engineer of the royal patent office in Sweden and was elected to the geographical congress in London, July, 1895. Here he was subjected to the most rigid cross-examination concerning his balloon scheme, one of the chief inquisitors being General A.W. Greely. All had to own that Andree's idea was a level-headed one, if it could be made to work. The whole thing hung upon the extent to which balloon making had been carried.

The order for the balloon in which Andree was to start for the pole was finally lodged with Lachambre, of Paris, in 1896, and the maker kindly consented to allow 20 men of science to advise him in the construction.

On July 4, 1896, the balloon was ready, but Andree preferred to wait until the next year owing to certain arctic calculations he wished to perfect.

Thus it was not until July 11, 1897, that he set out. Simultaneously with his start circulars advising people how to capture the balloon in case it got away were printed in four languages and were distributed throughout Scandinavia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Siberia and British America.

After the balloon sailed away people were on the lookout for it for days, as a large reward was offered for its rescue, and a very substantial sum was put up for proof that it had been seen.

Andree told his friends that if perfectly successful and if he found a good station near the north pole he might remain away from three to five years. All would depend upon his ability to get supplies. If, as he hoped, he could find an Esquimaux village near the warm regions of the open pole he would remain there until he had completed his full geographical survey.

A year has passed away, however, and as no news has been heard of him, it is feared that he is dead. The other alternative is most interesting. He may be away and living in the beautiful region which is said to exist around the pole. If so, he must be in a tropical country, for scientists agree that there is an open Polar sea.

An expedition to the rescue of Andree started out under Walter Wellman. He took with him generous contributions from President McKinley, Senator Mark Hanna, Ambassador Hay, William K. Vanderbilt, J. Pierpont Morgan and the officers of the National Geographical society.

Numerous other expeditions have started out after him. August Bandroe, a hardy Norwegian sea captain, took a boat several hundred miles north of Dane's Island looking right and left for Andree; Russeti, the Russian explorer, penetrated to the extreme point of the Tichookchee peninsular (sic) off northeastern Siberia looking for him, but without result.

King Oscar equipped a Royal Swedish expedition last September which went further north than any other expedition had ever done at that time of year, but still no trace of Andree!

On the 21st of November Jack Carr, a British sailor, heard that a pigeon had been found in the vicinity of Point Barrow. He got the pigeon and found that the message it bore was undoubtedly from Andree.

Many have been the futile suppositions regarding him. A short time ago he was located in Alaska, and again a carrier pigeon arrived from him in British America.

The Samozendend peninsular (sic) in latitude 70 degrees north and longitude 70 degrees east, entertained a Danish expedition sent out by the Royal society of Denmark. This station Andree intended to make one of his landings, but though the peninsula was thoroughly searched, there was no proof or suggestion that he had ever been there.

Andree's balloon, which was named La Pole Nord was made of varnished silk. The sack was 75 feet in height and the car and observation platform gave it 12 additional feet below. The basket was made of wicker work lined with varnished silk to keep out the wind, and was 6 feet deep and 6 feet in diameter. It was to serve as Andree's bedroom while he was at the pole.

One of the most unique expeditions for his rescue was sent out by the French geographical society. Its intentions was (sic) to reach Andree by air ship. This party is now at the Klondike intending to fly to Andree as soon as hot weather sets in. It will take a directly eastern course across the pole landing at Dan's (sic) Island. But the chances are that it will share the fate of Andree -- that of oblivion.

If Andree made the trip in safety and is now at the pole, he can say that he has spent the greatest length of time in Arctic regions ever spent by an explorer. At greatest calculations he could have flown from Dan's Island (sic) to the pole, which is a distance of not over 500 miles at the very outside, in 12 hours. This has left him one full year at the North Pole. Explorers have tried to spend the winter in very northern latitudes, but have been driven back to warmer stations in November. But if Andree is there he has enjoyed a year of polar weather.

Herr Andree has every incentive to come home except that of domesticity. He is not married. His mother is an old woman of 72 and is his housekeepeer and caretaker. The two have lived together for the 44 years of Andree's life. During the last 10 years she has been the most enthusiastic supporter of his balloon theories and was the first to urge him to make the attempt. None excel her in the surety of belief that he would come home some day.



Andree is a director of the patent office of Stockholm. He was born in Grenna, October 18, 1854. His father was a druggist and had a store at Lake Wettenn in Sweden. Andree played at ballooning when he was a mere boy and as he grew up he devoted himself to it.

He is six feet tall and on the day of his start weighted 185 pounds. He is rather stout in appearance and is one of the handsomer men in Sweden. An early romance, which exploded before it culminated in marriage prevented him from assuming the duties of husband and father, those same duties which Nansen, Peary and Greely have found so charming.

Mrs. Andree herself advanced the theory that her son might have found the open Polar Sea and remained there. "He is just the boy to stay," said she, "because he knows his old mother would willingly spare him to his work."

It would be impossible to mention all the people who have backed Andree financially. If his scheme was a wild one he certainly succeeded in interesting some of the greatest people in the world. The czar of Russia gave liberally to his project; Alfred Noble, the dynamite man, subscribed $17,750 to the enterprise and grieved because he could not give more; Captain Windran, the celebrated explorer, gave $1,000; the Rothschilds donated a large sum, and the geographical societies and those interested in Arctic exploration of every country gave money. Even King Christian, of Denmark, who values a dollar, added to the subscription fund.

Andree, it will be remembered, faithfully promised his friends of the Royal Academy of Sweden that they should hear from him within a year. Failing to get word to them he would return home. This he promised so faithfully that they believe he will keep his word if alive.

On July 11, 1898, he may come sailing home. If not dead he will certainly do so. Rewards have again been posted throughout the Swedish Kingdom and the Norse and Fins (sic) and British Americans are again on the lookout.

Will Andree come sailing home July 11, on the anniversary of his departure?

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:

Pittsburgh Post, Pittsburgh, PA. June 19, 1898


Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas

Graphics digitized by:
Patrick Harper
University of Kansas.

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