Ellsworth Lincoln

Lincoln Ellsworth's lifelong ambition was to explore the polar regions. Even though a family friend described him as a "reticent, imaginative boy, not nearly so vigorous as many of his schoolmates, and physically not as well equipped as they to lead a rigorous life," his sister Clare Ellsworth Prentice nonetheless declared that her brother "couldn't stand civilization...Since he was a child he...wanted to be out under the sky finding something which nobody ever found before" (Ellsworth, 1932: xii). As a boy of ten, Ellsworth dreamed of voyaging to the moon in an airship, a remarkable prophecy in light of his flight over the lunar landscape of the North Pole on board the airship Norge in 1926.

The son of a wealthy American coal mining baron, Ellsworth struggled for the first half of his life to gain financial support for his planned polar expeditions from his extremely reticent father. Failing that, Ellsworth's early life was a succession of learning experiences he believed essential to his ultimate goal of exploring the polar regions. Trained as a surveyor and engineer in railroad building, Ellsworth worked in these fields in Northwest Canada from 1903 to 1908. After a winter studying surveying and astronomy at the Royal Geographical Society in London, Ellsworth spent three years as a field assistant studying North American animal distributions for the US Biological Survey. A military stint in France at the age of 37 led to his certification as a pilot. In 1924, Ellsworth led a Johns Hopkins University geological survey of the Andes.

Ellsworth's repeated attempts to explore the polar landscape were frustrated both by circumstance and the reluctance of his father to offer financial support. In 1925, he met the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who was then on a lecture tour of the United States, and after much anguish Ellsworth's father agreed to provide $85,000 to support Amundsen's proposed flight to the North Pole. In two Dornier-Wal flying boats named N24 and N25,

Ellsworth, along with Amundsen and four other Norwegians, left Kings Bay, Svalbard, on May 21, 1925, and flew north until they were forced down at 87°44'. During the 25 days they were trapped, the expedition sounded the Polar Sea and found it to be 3750 m (12,375 ft) deep. Ellsworth's calm rescue of the two Norwegians in his aircraft after they had fallen into the icy water proved the value of his long apprenticeship. After clearing a runway along an open lead in the ice, the six men boarded the N25 on June 15 and were able to reach northern Svalbard, where they were rescued by a sealer.

After his initiation into the Arctic in 1925, Ellsworth invested the next 15 years of his life in polar exploration. In 1926, Ellsworth again joined Amundsen and the Italian airshipman Umberto Nobile as they flew in the dirigible Norge from Kings Bay over the North Pole to Alaska. This dramatic aerial triumph was the first crossing of the North Polar Basin, a voyage of 5463 km (3393 miles).

In 1931, Ellsworth supported Sir Hubert Wilkins and acted as Director of Scientific Research for Wilkins's failed attempt to reach the North Pole in the submarine Nautilus. Later in that same summer, Hugo Eckener invited Ellsworth to serve as Arctic expert on the 136-h exploration of Franz Josef Land, Nicholas II Land, the Taymyr Peninsula, and Novaya Zemlya by the German airship Graf Zeppelin. From an altitude of 150 m, the airship surveyed Cape Flora, descended off Hooker Island to meet with the Russian icebreaker Malygin (with the exiled Umberto Nobile on board), flew east to survey the southwest coast of Nicholas II Land, and mapped Lake Taymyr.

With these Arctic experiences behind him, Ellsworth turned his energies and resources to the exploration of Antarctica. In 1935, at the age of 55, Ellsworth became the first explorer to have flown over both poles when he and Canadian pilot Herbert Hollick-Kenyon crossed the entire continent of Antarctica in a Northrup Gamma named Polar Star. The area they explored is now known as Ellsworth Land and Marie Byrd Land. On his final visit to the Antarctic, Ellsworth discovered two uncharted mountain ranges dubbed the American Highland, on the Indian Ocean coast. These expeditions to the south led Ellsworth to claim 380,000 square miles of Antarctica for the United States.

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