Explorer. He is best remembered for leading the Antarctic expedition to become the first men to reach the South Pole in December 1911. Born Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen, the 4th son of a ship-owner and captain, he initially pursued a medical degree until the death of his mother when he was 21 years old, and abandoned his education to become a mariner. He had a passion for exploring wilderness places and from 1897 to 1899 he joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition that became the first expedition to winter there. In 1903 with a crew of six on the 45-ton fishing vessel Gjoa, he led the first expedition to successfully traverse Canada's Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, spending two winters at King William Island in what is today Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada. During this time he learned from the local Netsilik indigenous people about Arctic survival skills, which he found invaluable also on later expeditions. He returned to Oslo, Norway in 1906 and started planning to explore the Arctic Basin at the North Pole but changed his mind in 1909 upon hearing the Americans Frederick Cook and Robert Peary claimed to have reach the North Pole. He then decided on taking an expedition to the South Pole and in June 1910 he departed Oslo for Antarctica, reaching the eastern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf (known then as the "Great Barrier Ice:) at the Bay of Whales in January 1911 and established his base camp. In September 1911 the first attempt to reach the South Pole failed due to extreme temperatures and the following month, he led a second attempt which was successful, reaching the South Pole on December 14, 1911, about a month before ill-fated British expedition led by Robert F. Scott arrived. He renamed the Antarctic Plateau as King Haakon VII's Plateau, in honor of Norway's first monarch after its separation from Sweden in 1906. In March 1912 his expedition reached Hobart, Australia where he publicly announced his accomplishment and later that year, he published his account about the expedition called "The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the 'Fram,' 1910–1912." In 1918 he began an expedition with a new ship Maud which would last until 1925, sailing west to east through the Northeast Passage, now called the Northern Route (1918–1920). After returning to Seattle, Washington for repairs in 1921, he returned to Norway to put his finances in order. In 1922 he returned to the Maud at Nome, Alaska, and divided the expedition team in two, one part was to survive the winter and prepare for an attempt to fly over the pole, which he would lead (which failed), and the second team would remain on the Maud, to resume the original plan to drift over the North Pole in the ice. The ship drifted in the ice for three years east of the New Siberian Islands, before it was finally seized by his creditors as collateral for his mounting debt. In 1924 he travelled around the US on a lecture tour to raise money. In 1926 he and 15 other men made the first crossing of the Arctic in the airship Norge, leaving Spitzbergen on May 11, 1926, and arriving in Alaska two days later. On June 18, 1929 he disappeared with five crewmembers while flying on a rescue mission in the Arctic, seeking missing members of an exploration crew that had while returning from the North Pole. Afterward, a wing-float and bottom gasoline tank from his aircraft were found on the Norwegian coast, near the city of Tromsø. It is believed that the plane crashed in fog in the Barents Sea, and that he and his crew were killed in the crash, or died shortly afterward. None of the bodies were found and the search was finally called off in September 1928 by the Norwegian Government. Several geographical locations in the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica, and a large crater covering the Moon's south pole are named in his honor. A monument dedicated to him resides at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway. The Canadian Coast Guard named an icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, whose mission is to perform scientific research in the waters of the Arctic, and in 2006 the Royal Norwegian Navy named one of its Aegis frigates the HNoMS Roald Amundsen in his honor. His other writings include "The North-West Passage: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the ship 'Gjøa' 1903–1907" (1908), "Our Polar Flight: The Amundsen-Ellsworth Polar Flight, 1925" (also known as "as My Polar Flight") (1925), and "My Life as an Explorer" (1927). In 1926 he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having flown over the North Pole. Among his awards include the 1907 Hubbard Medal, awarded by the National Geographic Society for distinction in exploration, discovery, and research, and the 1907 Royal Geographic Society's Patron's Gold Medal.
Bio by: William Bjornstad