Amundsen, Roald (Roald Engelbregt Grauning Amundsen) [key], 1872–1928, Norwegian polar explorer; the first person to reach the South Pole. He served (1897–99) as first mate on the Belgica (under the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache) in an expedition to the Antarctic, and he commanded the Gjöa in the Arctic in the first negotiation of the Northwest Passage (1903–6); the Gjöa was the first single ship to complete the route through the Northwest Passage. His account appeared in English as Amundsen's North West Passage (1908).
Amundsen then purchased Fridtjof Nansen's Fram and prepared to drift toward the North Pole and then finish the journey by sledge. The news that Robert E. Peary had anticipated him in reaching the North Pole caused Amundsen to consider going south. He was successful in reaching the South Pole on Dec. 14, 1911, after a dash by dog team and skis from the Bay of Whales (an inlet of Ross Sea). He arrived there just 35 days before Robert F. Scott. This story he told in The South Pole (tr. 1913). In the course of these expeditions, he added much valuable scientific and geological information to the knowledge of Antarctica.
In 1918, back in the Arctic, Amundsen set out to negotiate the Northeast Passage in the Maud. After two winters he arrived at Nome, the first after N. A. E. Nordenskjöld to sail along the whole northern coast of Europe and Asia. Amundsen then turned to air exploration. He and Lincoln Ellsworth in 1925 failed to complete a flight across the North Pole, but the next year in the dirigible Norge, built and piloted by Umberto Nobile, they succeeded in flying over the pole and the hitherto unexplored regions of the Arctic Ocean N of Alaska.
A bitter controversy followed with Nobile as to the credit for the success. Yet in 1928, when Nobile crashed in the Italia, Amundsen set out on a rescue attempt that cost him his life. Although credit for the first flight over the North Pole has long been given to Richard Byrd, notes from Byrd's diary suggest that he may not actually have reached the pole, in which case Amundsen and Nobile would hold that distinction. The story of the ventures with Ellsworth, written by the two of them, appear in Our Polar Flight (1925) and The First Crossing of the Polar Sea (1927).
See the autobiographical My Life as an Explorer (tr. 1927).
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