PRISM LogoPolar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements    |    Theories Far & Wide Iceberg shaped endcap graphic
Home Button - Project Description
Polar Explorer Button - For Teachers, Students and Parents
Mission Information Button - Project Updates and Scientific Articles
Team Connection Button - For PRISM Team Members Only

Theories Far & Wide



According to the Theory Advanced by Captain John Cleves Symmes.


Only Brought Down a Storm of Ridicule Upon His Head.


Beautiful Fertile Lands and Pleasant Climate In the Interior.



Every now and then interest is revived in the Symmes theory that the earth is hollow and habitable and open at the poles, by such a suggestion that an Arctic expedition might well be undertaken with the special end in view to test that proposition. Such an expedition was seriously proposed as recent (sic) as two or three years ago, and is still under advisement. But save for these occasional tentative reminders the present generation has quite outgrown all knowledge of a geographical theory that by its originality and boldness and by a certain plausibility of argument deduced to its support startled and interested the scientific world three-quarters of a century ago.

Captain John Cleves Symmes

Captain John Cleves Symmes was born of a good New Jersey family and served creditably in the United States army from 1802 to 1816 seeing active service during the war of 1812. Afterward he was in the trading business on the Western frontier, and from St. Louis in 1818 announced his eccentric "Theory of Concentric Spheres," " Polar Voids and Open Poles," In this circular:

Light gives light to the discover-ad infinitum. St. Louis, Missouri Territory,
North America,
April 10, A. D., 1818

To all the. world - I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in this undertaking.

Of Ohio, late captain of infantry.

N. B. - I have ready for the press a treatise on the principles of matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena and discuss Dr. Darwin's "Golden Secret."

His Terms Were Easy.

My terms are the patronage of this and the new worlds.

I dedicate to my wife and her ten children. I select Dr. S.L. Mitchell, Sir H. Davy and Baron Alexander Von Humbolt as my protectors.

I ask 100 brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia, in the fall season, with reindeer and sleighs, on the ice of the frozen sea. I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring.


A copy of this circular was sent to every learned institution and every considerable town and village, as well as to numerout (sic) distinguished individuals, throughout the United States, and to several of the learned societies of Europe.

The circular did not fail of attention, but it was made the subject of general ridicule, two continents laughed at the idea, and "Symmes Hole," as it was promptly dubbed by the wits of the day, was established firmly in the category of absurd vagaries of the human mind.

The Academy of Science of Paris, before which the circular was laid by Count Volney, decided that it was not worthy of consideration. The scientific papers of Europe generally treated it as a hoax, rather than believe that any sane man could issue such a circular or uphold such a theory.

Circulars and newspaper articles soon followed this one, and were kept up for years, despite the ridicule which was poured on the unfortunate author from all sides. In 1820 Captain Symmes commenced lecturing on his theory.

A Petition to Congress.

In 1822 he petitioned the Congress of the United States, setting forth his belief of the existence of a habitable and accessible concave to this globe; his desire to embark on a voyage of discovery to one or other of the polar regions; his belief in the great profit and honor his country would derive from such discovery, and praying that Congress would equip and fit out for the expedition two vessels of 250 or 300 tons burden and grant such other aid as the Government might deem necessary to promote the object.

This petition was presented in the Senate by Colonel Richard M. Johnson, a member from Kentucky, on March 7, 1822, when, after a few remarks, it was laid on the table. In December, 1823. he forwarded a similar petition to both Houses of Congress, which met a similar fate. In January, 1824, he petitioned the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, praying that body to pass a resolution approving that of his theory, and to recommend him to Congress for an outfit suitable to the enterprise, but consideration of it was indefinitely postponed.

In 1825 he applied through the American Minister at the Court of St. Petersburg, for permission to accompany the Polar expedition then fitting out by the Russian Government, which was readily granted by the Chancellor, Count Romanzoff, but the want of means to procure a proper outfit hindered him from accepting the offer.

For several years after this Captain Symmes traveled throughout the United States, lecturing on his theory, but making few converts. He died in May, 1829, and was buried at Hamilton, 0 (sic). His grave is marked by a solid structure or freestone, surmounted with a hollow globe, open at the poles, bearing the following inscriptions:

A Brave Soldier's Epitaph.

On the west side - "Captain John C. Symmes, a native of New Jersey, died in May, 1829, aged 49 years and 6 months."

On the north side "Captain John Cleaves (sic) Symmes was a philosopher and the originator of 'Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres and Polar Voids.' He contended that the earth is hollow and habitable within."

On the south side- "Captain John Cleves Symmes entered the army of the United States as an ensign in the year 1802. He afterward rose to the rank of Captain, and performed daring feats of bravery in the battles of Lundy's Lane and sortie from Fort Erie."

According to the theory of concentric spheres, the earth is not a solid mass that ages ago was thrown off from the sun in a molten condition, and that has gradually cooled from the surface inward, but is a hollow globe open at the poles. The diameter of the northern opening is about 2,000 miles, or 4,000 miles from outside to outside. The south opening is somewhat larger. The planes of these openings are parallel to each other, but form an angle of 12 degrees with the equator, so that the highest part of the north plane is directly opposite the lowest part of the south plane. The shell of the earth is about 1,000 miles thick, and the edges of this shell at the opening are called verges, and measure from the regular concavity within to the regular convexity without, 1,500 miles.

The verges occupy about 25 degrees, and if delineated upon a map would show only the outer half of the verge, while all above or further from the equator, both north and south, would lie on the apex and within the verge. All the Polar regions upon the present map would be out of sight. The meridian lines extend at right angles from the equator to the outer edges of the verges and then wind round along the surface of the verges, terminating at the points directly under the highest parts of the verges both north and south.

Apex of the Northern Verge.

The line which marks the location of the apex of the northern verge begins at a point in Lapland about 68 degrees north and 20 degrees east from London on a meridian traversing Spitzbergen, whence it passes southwest across the Atlantic Ocean and the southern part of Greenland, through Hudson Bay and over the continent to the Pacific, near Cooks inlet; thence across the Fox Islands to a point about 56 degrees north and 160 degrees west, nearly south of Berings Straits. Then it passes over the Pacific, crossing the south part of Kamtchatka, continuing northwest, through Siberia, entering Europe across the Ural Mountains in latitude about 58 degrees north, and passing near the Arctic coast, over the mouth of the White Sea, to the point of starting.

There has been a great deal of ingenious argument put forth in support of this theory and without going so far as to subscribe to all the conclusions of the Symmes' supporters it may be frankly admitted that an interesting and in some respects a very plausible case is made out.

It is pointed out that the climatic differences on the earth's surface, the vast open polar sea, the remarkable changes in the apparent extent of the sensible horizon in high latitudes, the brilliant twilight of the north, the variations and dip of the magnetic needle and other natural phenomena are easily explainable by the Symmes theory of the hollow earth. When a navigator in the Arctic regions finds that his needle has suddenly ceased to point north, but points south instead, this, say the Symmes believers, is because the vessel has crossed the outer verge of the polar opening and actually sailed into the interior of the earth, thereby changing its course from north to sourth, without anyone really comprehending it.

Warmth at the North Pole.

The existence of a warmer climate beyond the latitude of the verge is also cited in support of the theory. Arctic travelers generally agree on this point, speaking of the vegetation, the animals and the warm currents of air coming from the north. Now, says the Symmes advocate, all these facts are utterly inconsistent with the commonly received opinion of the Arctic regions, that the further we go to the north the colder it becomes. If any reliance can be placed upon the representations of explorers, it is fully proved that, above and beyond 68 degrees and 70 degrees north latitude, in the interior of North America, there is a milder climate than at a lower degree latitude. According to the common opinion such a climate could not encircle the poles, for every argument which shows the climate colder at 45 degrees than at 20 degrees north proves it colder at the poles than at 70 degrees north.

Large herds of deer, white bears, foxes, and other animals migrate northward on the approach of winter. They cannot exist upon the cold, icy belt of the earth along the verge, and they instinctively migrate where they can procure subsistence. From the regions around the northern part of the verge they migrate north and from the southern border of the same they migrate south in winter. From Canada and the countries along the same latitude immense flocks of migrating birds go south on the approach of winter and return in the spring. The reindeer in March or April come down from the north in droves of thousands and return north again in October, in the interior of North America. The same is true of the north of Asia. In these high latitudes the musk oxen and white bears thus migrate. The cattle are seen retiring north on the ice in autumn and returning in the spring in great numbers, bringing their young with them.

The Instinct of Animals.

Why should the reindeer and other animals migrate north instead of south, as our buffalo on the plains of Missouri do when pressed with snow and cold weather? Instinct generally leads animals to fruitful and productive rather than unproductive regions; why, then, proceed north on the approach of winter unless in expectation of finding a warmer climate, or at least a more mild and plentiful country, beyond the icy circle? Independent of the immense droves of reindeer, great numbers of musk oxen, white bears and white foxes spend their winters toward the north, which tends to establish the fact that a considerable extent of land must exist in that quarter of the earth. This, however, would infringe on the space necessary to accommodate the vast quantity of fish which appear to be propagated in that region if the old system were true.


The World, According to the Symmes Theory

If we were to judge of the internal surface of the sphere by its animal production -- admitting that those animals heretofore enumerated are propagated there -- we should conclude that the internal region of the earth is as much more favorable to the support of animal life as the reindeer is larger than our deer, and the white bear larger than our bear, and, consequently, we must conclude that there are more salubrious climates and better countries within than any we have yet discovered without.

Immense shoals of herrings, in good condition, according to Buffon, come down from the polar seas, and are never known to return.

Were the earth a compact and solid spheroid, according the old theory, and were the seas frozen nearly to the bottom at the poles, as we would be led to conclude, where could all those fish that come down to us every spring breed? Or, if they even all returned in the autumn, and all the north were a sea that did not freeze even to the poles, it would require a great stretch of credulity to imagine where they could obtain food for the winter; or even if their source of food were inexhaustible, could the region of the pole afford space sufficient for their health, so as to migrate south in the spring?

A Question of Capacity.

If the earth be not hollow (or at least greatly concave about the poles) where could all those fish find room in winter? But on Symmes' plan, admitting the globe to be a hollow sphere, and the inner, or concave part, as habitable as without (at least as habitable for fish), the whole matter is at once explained.

Whales and various fish delight in cold regions. According to Symmes' theory there is a zone at a short distance beyond the real verge of the sphere (which constitutes the coldest part, or as he has thought proper to term it, "the icy circles") commencing at the highest point, in about latitude 68 degrees, in the Northern Sea, near Norway, thence gradually decling to about latitude 50 degrees in the Pacific Ocean, which is the lowest point, and thence regularly round again to the highest point. A certain distance beyond this and short of the apparent verge this zone or icy circle exists, which is believed to be the coldest region of earth. After passing this we would advance into the interior of the globe and into a milder clime. In the interior region, it is contended, those immense shoals of fish are propagated and grow which annually come out and afford such an abudant supply; nor does it appear that the interior parts of the sphere are altogether forsaken by the fish in summer, for shoals of fat mackerel and herring come down from the north in autumn as well as in the spring.

The seal, another animal found in cold regions, is also said to migrate north twice each year, going once beyond the icy circle to produce their young and again to complete their growth, always returning remarkably fat -- an evidence that they find something more than snow and ice to feed on in the country to which they migrate.

Basis of Symmes' Theory.

According to Symmes' theory each sphere has an intermediate cavity or mid-plane space of considerable extent situated between the convex and concave surfaces of the sphere, filled with a very light and elastic fluid, rarified in proportion to the gravity or condensing power of the exposed surfaces of the respective spheres, and also various other less cavities or spaces between the larger and principal one and the outer and inner surfaces of the spheres, each filled with a similar fluid or gas, most probably partaking much of the nature of hydrogen. This fluid to lighter than that in which the sphere floats, and has a tendency to poise it in universal space.

The spheres. in many parts of the unfathomable ocean are believed to be water quite through from the concave or convex surfaces to the great mid-plane space, and probably the earthly or solid matter of the sphere may in many places extend quite through from one surface to the other, tending, like ribs or braces, to support the sphere in its proper form. Such a formation of spheres to be supported by various facts and phenomena.

Recent explorers have found more and more evidence of an open polar sea and of a surprising increase in vegetation and animal life in the higher arctic regions, and the Symmes theorists hold that these facts go to prove the truth of the Symmes theory and shake our faith in Newton's idea of the north being a vast solitude of eternal ice. All these discoveries were made while running south after passing the 80 degrees latitude.

New Country at the Pole.

Baron Nordenskold, of Sweden, who made two visits to the extreme North tells us "that it is impossible to find continents of ice south of 80 degrees of north latitude." That is, after passing the 80 degrees, or magnetic pole, his compass indicated south, the direction we familiarly term north. An English explorer, Captain Wiggins, after passing the 80 degrees, found the country seen by Nordenskold. He made the acquaintance of the inhabitants whom he discovered spoke Hebrew. An account of his trip was published in the London Times, February 5, 1881. A Mr. Seebohm, who accompanied the expedition, took a ride on horseback with several others through this new country, and after his return to London he read a description of what he had seen before the Society of Arts. The country was rich in iron ore. A piece picked up at haphazard was so highly magnetic as to lift a large needle. There were copper mines and ten or twelve gold mines that yielded from five to seven tons a year.

Another explorer who visited this new country of Symmzonia is Captain Tuttle, an old United States whaling master. He gives a similar account of the people and says they speak Hebrew. He found them well contented and intelligent. He discovered during his 28 years' experience in the North that every fourth winter was mild, and during one of these seasons he discovered this new country, which he says can only be reached with a steam vessel, as the current in Robeson's channel runs south at the rate of four to six miles per hour.

That is in substance the proposition and the arguments of those who have followed Captain Symmes in the belief that the earth is hollow and inhabited, and that in the interior are beautiful and fertile lands and an enjoyable climate.

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:

Pittsburg Dispatch, Pittsburg, PA. February 9, 1896


Transcribed by: K . Bailey, and S. Snodgrass, Wathena Middle School, U.S.D. 406, Wathena, KS, 66090. Sponsoring Teacher: Mrs. Rullman

Home | Polar Explorer | Mission Information | Team Connection |

PRISM © 2002 - is brought to you by

National Science Foundation Logo
National Science
Information and Telecommunication Technology Center Logo
Information and Telecommunication
Technology Center (ITTC)
Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation Logo
Kansas Technology Enterprise
University of KansasJayhawk Logo
University of