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The 1931 Nautilus Expedition to the North Pole

The 1931 Nautilus Expedition to the North Pole

The 1931 Nautilus Expedition to the North Pole. In 1931, Sir George Hubert Wilkins and crew boarded a decommissioned United States navy submarine in an attempt to reach the North Pole.

They failed. This online exhibit from the American Philosophical Society is about Sir Hubert Wilkins' 1931 polar expedition. This site was created by J.J. Ahern. It includes sections on Hubert Wilkins, the Expedition, the Nautilus, the crew of the Nautilus, and the North Pole.

From the site: From the first efforts to locate the Northwest Passage in the 17th century to the flowering of arctic studies in the mid-20th century, European and American explorers and scientists have made repeated efforts to reach the North Pole.

Traveling by ship and dogsled, Admiral Robert E. Peary, USN, became the first to reach the Pole on April 6, 1909, after which other explorers outdid one another in efforts to reach the top of the world.

Most famously, on May 9, 1926, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN, became the first to fly over the North Pole. In 1931, Australian explorer Sir George Hubert Wilkins and a volunteer crew of submariners and scientists set out in a decommissioned U.S. Navy submarine to sail under water from Spitsbergen to the Bering Straits by way of the North Pole. Before departing on his expedition, which he estimated would take 42 days, Wilkins published a promotional book, Under the North Pole, both to raise funds and as a record of the expedition's goals in case no one should return.

In his book, Wilkins states that he was undertaking this expedition not only because it had never been done, but as a means of opening "a new field of Arctic research that needs explaining"(page v). The mission was championed as a scientific expedition, featuring valuable experiments in oceanography, the sampling of the Arctic seabed, taking gravity measurements, biological investigations, and magnetic and spectrographic observations.

Wilkins provided much of the financial support for the expedition from his own pocket, supplementing the total by raising funds from private individuals. He received scientific support from such institutions as the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Norwegian Geophysical Institute, the American Geographical Society, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, however even this impressive list of supporters did not prevent people from seeing the trip as nothing more then a publicity stunt, even some in the crew.

This perception was probably the result of Wilkins's contract with Hearst Enterprises, Inc., to provide exclusive daily news reports for the New York American. In many eyes, the failure of the expedition to complete most of their scientific experiments only confirmed the perception.