Walter Wellman's expedition to the North Pole

AT a meeting of the Board of Managers of the National Geographic Society on March 16, 1906, President Willis L. Moore in the chair, the following resolution, moved by Dr Alexander Graham Bell and seconded by Rear Admiral Colby M. Chester, U. S. N., was unanimously adopted:

"Resolved, That it is the sense of the Board that the plans outlined by Mr Walter Wellman for reaching the North Pole are carefully and thoroughly considered, and give good promise of success;
"That the Board heartily approves of these plans, and will do everything in its power to aid in carrying them out;
"That the Board accepts Mr Wellman's proposition to send a scientific representative, and will, as far as possible, see that such representative is equipped for the work involved."

Major Henry E. Hersey has been appointed the representative of the National Geographic Society to accompany Mr Wellman, and the scientific program is now being arranged by the Research Committee of the Society, consisting of Vice-President Henry Gannett, Chairman; C. Hart Merriam, F.V. Coville, A.J. Henry, O.H. Tittmann, C.W. Hayes, L.A. Bauer, W.H. Holmes, O.P. Austin, and C.M. Chester.

When the Spanish-American war began, Major Hersey was in charge of the climate and crop work of the U. S. Weather Bureau in Arizona. He obtained leave of absence, raised a regiment, and offered his services to the government. Only part of the regiment was needed, so that Major Hersey was transferred as captain to the Rough Riders, of which he was the ranking major when the war closed. Since then he has been connected with the U. S. Weather Bureau. Probably two additional men will accompany Mr Wellman and Major Hersey in the airship voyage.

The first announcement that Mr Wellman would attempt to reach the North Pole in an airship was made on December 31, 1905. Mr Victor Lawson, the principal owner of the Chicago-Record Herald and a life member of the National Geographic Society, supplies the money. His public spirit and generosity in thus supporting an expedition which will probably cost more than $250,000 before it is completed is deserving of the highest respect and appreciation. The expedition has been incorporated under the laws of Maine, with Mr Lawson, president; Mr Frank B. Noyes, editor of the Chicago-Record Herald, treasurer, and Mr Wellman, general manager. The plans of the airship were determined after much deliberation with the leading experts in aeronautics of France.

Among Mr Wellman's advisers were Alberto Santos-Dumont; the engineer, Henri Julliot, who built the Lebaudy dirigible and who has just been accorded the grand cross of the Legion or Honor; Commandant Renard, of the army, representative of the distinguished family whose names are famous in the history of aerial navigation; Commandant Bouttiaux, chief of the army aerostatic station at Meudon; Captain Voyer, assistant chief and a man of great experience in aeronautics and with dirigibles; M. Goupil, well known mathematician, the greatest authority in France on aerial screws, engineer, and chevalier of the Legion of Honor; Captain Ferber, an expert not only in aeronautics, but in aviation; M. Edouard Surcouf, a well-known constructor and engineer, who is now building a dirigible for M. Deustch (de la Meurthe); M. Louis Godard, the aeronaut and constructor who has built scores of ships of the air and who has made 500 ascensions; the engineer and mathematician, Andre, who is M. Godard's scientific collaborator; Gaston Hervieu, an engineer and aeronaut, who is also an expert mechanic; Alexandre Liwenthaal, who was associated with Count Zeppelin in the famous airship experiments in Germany and Switzerland, and others.

Mr Wellman gave to M. Godard the contract for the construction of the great airship, and the work is now under way. The aeronef is to be completed in May. All its motors, propulseurs, and mechanical parts are to be thoroughly tested in Paris. In June all the paraphernalia of the expedition is to be assembled at Tromsoe, Norway, where the ice steamer Frithjof is lying – a craft well known in Arctic annals, having been used by the Wellman expedition to Franz Josef Land in 1898, and employed later by the Ziegler expedition.

The Victory

General layout and specifications (click image for enlargement)

About June 20 the Frithjof will sail for Spitzbergen, and Mr Wellman expects to establish his headquarters at Low Island, North Spitzbergen, latitude 80° 20', about July 1. The party will at once proceed with the erection of headquarters buildings, a huge shed large enough to hold the airship when inflated, gas apparatus, etc. An idea of the large scale upon which the expedition is organized may be gained from the fact that at the headquarters will be assembled about 35 men, including the scientific staff, engineers, aeronauts, mechanics, sailors, and workmen. To make the hydrogen for inflation of the airship 105 tons of sulphuric acid and 75 tons of iron filings are taken. During the latter part of July the airship is to have its trials under meteorological and other conditions almost identical with those which prevail along the route to the Pole.

The expedition has announced a two years' campaign for the Pole, and has chartered the Frithjof for the seasons of 1906 and 1907. If upon being carefully tested the dirigible is found to be in fit condition for the voyage, an effort to reach the Pole will be made this year. If not, the flight over the Arctic Ocean will be deferred till next year, as Mr Wellman has announced that he will not start till all his equipment is in the best possible order, whether it be this year or next. If the final attempt goes over to 1907, the party will return in the autumn and spend the winter and spring reconstructing the airship in the light of the summer's experience, improving and strengthening it, and, if necessary, building an entirely new aeronef.

An interesting feature of the expedition is the plan to maintain wireless communication between the Arctic regions and the outer world. Wireless station number I will be established at Hammerfest, Norway, in touch with the Atlantic cable. Station number 2 will be at the expedition headquarters in Spitzbergen, and it is expected that constant communication between these points, 600 miles apart, can be maintained. Station number 3 will be on the airship, and it is believed that messages can be sent from the neighborhood of the Pole itself to the headquarters at Spitzbergen, and thence to Hammerfest, in case the expedition should be fortunate enough to reach the vicinity of the Pole.

The period of the whole trip by dirigible is assumed at 10 days, or 240 hours. Mr Wellman believes the airship can be kept in the air as long as 20, possibly 25, days, because the loss of ascensional force should not be more than 200 pounds per day through leakage of gas, or say 5,000 pounds in 25 days, while in that time he expects to burn 5,500 pounds of gasoline in the motors, thus lightening the load by this much, not counting the provisions consumed, etc. He carries gasoline enough for about 140 hours of motoring at approximately 12 miles per hour. Hence each assumed period of IO days is divided into 140 hours motoring and 100 hours drifting with the retardateur.



Adapted from The National Geographic Magazine, Nol. XVII, No 4, April 1906.


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