Biography of Swedish Balloonist and Explorer Salomon Andree Part 1

About the famous Swedish balloonist and aviator who attempted to fly to the North Pole via balloon.


SALOMON A. ANDREE (1854-1897)

For centuries explorers had sailed and sledded through the Arctic wastes, trying to attain the North Pole. All of them had failed and many had died. Then in 1896 a Swedish scientist named Salomon Andree announced that he was preparing to fly to the North Pole in a balloon. A scholarly man, Andree had thus far lived a quiet, secure, uneventful life, but he was destined to become the first man to travel through the Arctic skies.

Andree was born in Grenna, Sweden, on Oct. 18, 1854. His father was a prosperous chemist who strictly reared his seven children to be useful, middle-class Swedish citizens. Forbidden to do anything adventurous, Andree spent a Spartan youth studying classics and participating in sports. At college, he earned degrees in engineering and science.

In 1876 the young man rebelled against his family training and boarded a ship for America. During the voyage, he picked up a book on balloon aeronautics in the ship's library and read it over and over again until the ship docked in New York. Penniless, Andree got a job as a janitor at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. There he met the veteran American aeronaut John Wise, who spent hours discussing balloons with him. Wise promised to take Andree up in a balloon, but when the time came for the flight, the balloon toppled over and ripped open. Another 16 years would pass before Andree finally made his first ascent in a balloon.

Returning to Sweden, Andree worked as an engineer and taught science. In 1882 he went with a meteorological expedition to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, where he developed a passionate interest in Arctic exploration. Back in Sweden again, Andree became chief engineer of the Swedish Patent Office and a science professor at the University of Stockholm. These desk jobs provided a secure income and a comfortable existence, but Andree found them increasingly boring. He occupied his spare hours studying balloons and Arctic exploration. Combining these two dreams, he conceived of traveling to the North Pole by balloon.

Although he was afraid of women and thought marriage to be "much too risky," the bachelor Andree had no fear of flying. In 1892 a Norwegian took him up in a balloon for the first time. After that, Andree bought his own balloon and made numerous trips, including a flight across the Baltic Sea from Sweden to a rocky isle off Finland, where he crashed. After inventing a steering system consisting of ropes and sails, Andree believed it feasible to navigate a balloon to the North Pole and began planning the expedition. He presented his proposal to the Swedish Geographical Society, which gave him its support since he was one of Sweden's most respected scientists. For financial support, Andree went to the Swedish dynamite millionaire, Alfred Nobel, and to the king of Sweden, who both generously contributed money for the project.

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