The interest concerning the exploration and search for the North Pole has been discussed and debated throughout history due to a variety of reasons. This interest has continued to current times where there are constant debates about the North Pole regarding who was the first to reach it and what were the motives for the explorations. The explorations and expeditions of Constantine Phipps, Heratio Nelson, William Edward Parry and the Polaris Expedition, Frederick Cook, and Robert Peary are all examples of the interest in the North Pole. This essay argues that the reason for the ongoing interest of the North Pole is due to the curiosity, possible scientific advancement, and controversy which will be proven through a variety of examples of expeditions beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries and continuing to the early 20th century.
Throughout history dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, there has been a fascination with the North Pole. There was strong competition for the discovery of the North Pole between many countries. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many arctic expeditions were commissioned in order to find and claim new land. In particular, one explorer Louis-Antione de Bougainville and was one of the first explorers to become interested in the North Pole. A passage from his journal originally written in French and roughly translates to English: “If they are vast seas which occupy the regions of the pole, one will find less ice there in places less northern” . This interest in the North Pole early on.
Originally, the arctic exploration that was taking place was in search was for the North West Passage but once it was mapped and discovered, the attention shifted to the search for the North Pole. Many skilled sailors and explorers were sent on expeditions in search by royalty and other companies. One of the first well known expeditions to the North Pole was in 1773 commissioned by the King and the Royal Society of London led by Constantine Phipps. They set sail in two ships called the Racehorse and the Carcass Bombs with eighty to ninety men and lots of gun powder. In Phipps’ journal published in 1774, he describes his journey through daily entries and states in the introduction, “A voyage of a few months to an uninhabited extremity of the world, the great object of which was to ascertain a very interesting point in geography, cannot be supposed to afford much matter for the gratification of mere curiosity” . During this expedition and commission, the motive was curiosity and exploration because it was an unknown and untouched part of the world. This was also the goal of many other explorers one in particular being, Heratio Nelson. Heratio Nelson was under the command of Phipps and on the same attempted expedition to the North Pole. In the book The Life of the Right Honourable Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson written by James Harrison, there is a passage that discusses the motives of the expedition as well as the knowledge they gained from the expedition. It discusses about a scientist named Doctor. Irving and the other scientific information they gained. It states, “Dr. Irving’s apparatus for distilling fresh water from the sea was adopted; Mr. Israel Lyons was engaged, by the Board of Longitude, to embark in this voyage, for the purpose of making astronomical observation” . The other motives and interest of this expedition was scientific in addition to curiosity. It is stated later in the book that this was a scientific expedition and revealed many new scientific discoveries about the arctic.
During the nineteenth century, interest in reaching the North Pole grew and more expeditions were encouraged. The Polaris Expedition was an expedition sent out in 1871 and lasted until 1873. It was another attempt at reaching the North Pole led by William Edwards Parry, a British naval officer. The interest of the Polaris expedition was to claim land before other countries reached the North Pole. In an issue of The Edinburgh Review published in 1875, it discusses the hope for the mission, “or as if the Arctic was an English preserve, and any other people trying to explorer it were intruding on our private domain […] till now we have never pledged ourselves to look for it; and now we greet those brave men of other countries-Americans, Swedes, North Germans, or Austrians-who have ventured on the perilous quest, as fellow-labourers and honourable rivals in the work of scientific exploration” . During this time, many different countries were all attempting to be the first to reach the North Pole. The issue discusses as well, the interest in icebergs, wildlife, as well as learning about the land the explorers encountered while on the expedition. In addition, it is stated in the quotation from The Edinburgh Review that the expedition was also for scientific purposes and interests as well as another motive for the exploration. This is another example of an example of the interest and fascination in terms of the exploration of the North Pole.
Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian explorer, diplomat, scientist, and humanitarian. In the 1880’s he was also intrigued by the North Pole and was extremely eager to explore it. His main motive to explore the North Pole was to scientifically study the environment and life. In an article he wrote in Longman’s Magazine titles Towards the North Pole he wrote, “In our time the knowledge of the the earth’s surface has been greatly enlarged. Africa has been explored to a great extent, the inner parts of Asia have been reached by energetic travellers, the American continents are known very nearly in their whole extent, the Greenland glacier has been crossed, and in Australia much has also been done […] There are, however, two parts of our globe which have hitherto most obstinately resisted all travellers, and where exploration has made slow progress. These two parts are the regions round the Poles” . This also shows that in addition to scientific and environmental research and interest, curiosity was once again a motive for explorers to go on expeditions. Due to the fact that the North Pole was known to be untouched and undiscovered land, there was competition to be the first one to reach it. At another point in this article, Fridtjof Nansen states that “geographical explorations have nowhere failed to yield valuable results to science and humanity [..] Since, therefore, it is only in these regions that these branches of science can be developed, the question ‘of what use is a polar expedition?’ is almost equivalent to the question ‘of what use is the advancement of knowledge?’” . This once again demonstrates the interest of science, curiosity, and knowledge this particular explorer, Nansen, and many others.
In 1908 and 1909 a controversial debate began regarding Frederick Cook and Robert Peary. Both claimed to have reached the North Pole first and there was evidence in support of and against both. In April 1908 Cook claimed that he had reached the North Pole first when he had set sail a year earlier. An article published in 2003 discussing the issue states that when Cook announced his claim to the North Pole it created a “worldwide sensation” . One year later in 1909 Peary also claimed to have reached the North Pole first. Peary fought Cook’s claim by sharing a map of Cook’s route which was confirmed by two of Cook’s two Indigenous sailing companions, Etukishook and Ahpellah. Peary stated that he had encountered them on his journey to the North Pole and “the PAC map showed that instead of going to the North Pole, Cook had gone a short distance to the northwest of the Arctic Ocean before turning back” . Cook countered the statement made my Peary and stated that Peary’s backers had invented a route to the North Pole to discredit him. In addition, it is also debated that both explorers had influential backers that supported their various arguments. “In truth, both of these driven men would in time succumb to the temptations of all heroes and would-be heroes: incompetence, occasional deception, commercial gain, and alleged failure would tarnish their achievements” . It should be noted that there is ongoing interest in the search for the North Pole and the Cook-Peary controversy. It is discussed and debated today as it is still unknown who truly made it to the North Pole first or if either did at all.
In 1926, Richard E. Byrd, an American naval officer, explorer, and aviator reached the North Pole by aircraft. He flew over the North Pole in an airplane called the Fokker F.VII with another pilot Floyd Bennett. Byrd became a national hero after an article was published in the New York Times detailing his polar encounter. He also been planning an exploration to the North Pole for a long time. It seems that Byrd’s main interest for flying to the North Pole was once again the possibility of reaching the unknown, but also competition. He was competing against Roald Amundsen as they were at the same time attempting to reach the North Pole. In an article in The Virginia Magazine of History, Byrd’s career and flight to the North Pole is discussed and one section of the article states. “The rivalry between Byrd and Amundsen influenced contract negotiations, on 8 March 1926, roughly a month before the flight” . As well the article stated that “The stakes for the North Pole flight were high. Byrd was racing against the more experienced Roald Amundsen […] Amundsen’s plan to fly a dirigible over the North Pole had the same immediate goal as Byrd’s expedition: to meet the contractual terms set by his media promoters for an elusive story and to make aviation history” . In addition, his trip was heavily followed, and many news organizations reported on his attempt to reach the North pole. This caused a launch and furthering of Byrd’s career and he went on to achieve medals and multiple books written about him.
In conclusion, the interest in the North Pole throughout the past still continues to stand today. There are countless examples of explorations and expeditions commissioned by a variety of companies, countries, and royalties. The ones mentioned in this essay include instances from the 17th and 18th centuries, the Constantine Phipps and the Horatio Nelson explorations, the William Edward Parry searches, the Fridtjof Nansen explorations, the Frederick Cook and Edward Peary controversy, the Richard E. Byrd aviation flight competition and many other examples not in this essay. The examples continue throughout history until current time. The interest and fascination of the expansive North Pole lied and still lies in the history involving the constant debates and discussion of the Cook-Peary controversy and the continuous scientific discoveries that are currently being made and the discoveries of the past.