Arctic Exploration Timeline

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Arctic Exploration Timeline


Eric the Red discovered Greenland.


John Cabot discovered the rich Grand Banks fishing grounds off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.

1594 – 97

William Barents (Dutch) explored Spitsbergen

1610 – 11

Henry Hudson in an attempt to find the Northwest Passage sailed his ship into Hudson Bay where the ship wintered over. The crew mutinied and set Hudson adrift in an open boat with his son and seven men.


William Baffin visited Spitsbergen and he may have visited Franz Joseph Land.


The Hudson Bay Company was founded.


Captain Cook attempted a route through the Arctic from the Pacific but was stopped by ice at Icy Cape, Alaska.

1829 – 33

Captain John Ross explored the Canadian Arctic and became the first European to reach the North Magnetic Pole.

1845 – 48

Sir John Franklin and Captain Francis Crozier sailed their ships the Terror and Erebus into the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. After the ships were trapped in ice all 139 expedition members ultimately perished. It is said some 40 expeditions searched for them over the next 10 years.

1882 – 83

At the suggestion of the Austrian explorer Lt. Karl Weyprecht the first International Circumpolar Year was established and a number of countries cooperated to carry out scientific studies in the Arctic.


The Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen completed the first crossing of Greenland’s icecap.

1891 – 95

Robert Peary Arctic Explorer

Robert E. Peary completed two traverses across northern portions of Greenland’s icecap.

1893 – 96

Nansen sailed his ship the Fram into the Arctic on an attempt to reach the North Pole. The ship, trapped in ice, drifted for 35 months and achieved a record high latitude of 85 degrees 57 minutes north.

1903 – 06

Roald Amundsen became the first person to navigate the Northwest Passage in his ship the Gja.

1905 – 06

Peary sailed his ship the Roosevelt to Ellesmere Island and set out to the North Pole with a group of native Unuit and sled dogs. They were met by bad ice and weather conditions but achieved a record high latitude of 87 degrees 6 minutes north.

1907 – 09

Dr. Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908, but this claim has been disputed.

1908 – 99

Robert Peary reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. His claim to be the first to reach the North Pole was acknowledged by the National Geographic Society, the Naval Affairs Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and by numerous modern analysts. Peary was promoted to Rear Admiral by Congress.


Donald MacMillan Arctic Explorer

Backed by the National Geographic Society, Douglas MacMillan led an expedition to the Arctic taking three amphibious airplanes commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Richard Byrd. Flights were made over Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands and the Greenland icecap proving the worth of airplanes to explore polar territories.


Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth attempted the first flight to the North Pole but their flying boat was forced down short of their goal due to engine trouble. They were stranded for 25 days before being rescued by a second flying boat.



Lt. Commander Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett flew the first airplane to the North Pole on May 9, 1926, a roundtrip from Spitsbergen to the Pole and back. Byrd’s claim was verified by the National Geographic Society, Air Force master navigator and flight instructor Lt. Col. William Mollett, and numerous other modern analysts. Congress promoted Byrd to Commander.


Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, pilot Umberto Nobile and 13 other people flew in a dirigible from Spitzbergen and reached the North Pole on May 12, 1926, three days after Byrd. They continued on to Alaska after a flight of 3,300 miles.


Umberto Nobile and 17 other men flew to the North Pole from Spitsbergen on the airship Italia. On the flight back to Spitsbergen the airship crashed, by the time a rescue party arrived half of the party had died or were missing. Tragically Roald Amundsen, who was on an airplane flying a rescue mission, perished when that aircraft went missing and was later found demolished on the ice.


Hubert Wilkins attempted to cross the Arctic Ocean in his submarine the Nautilus. The attempt failed due to mechanical issues and missing parts.


The nuclear powered American submarine USS Nautilus crossed from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans submerged under the Arctic ice. It passed over the North Pole on August 3.


The American nuclear submarine, the USS Skate, was the first submarine to surface at the North Pole on March 17 by breaking through the ice.


Ralph Plaisted was the first person verified to have reached the North Pole by snowmobile.

1968 – 69

The British Trans-Arctic Expedition with Wally Herbert and his team was the first to traverse the polar ice cap with sled dogs. They covered 3,720 miles in 476 days. They arrived at the North Pole on the 60th anniversary of Peary’s arrival in 1909.


Sir Ranulpf Fiennes and his Trans Global Expedition team reached the North Pole on Easter Day. His expedition was the first to accomplish a circumnavigation of Earth from Pole to Pole.


Will Steger and his International Polar Expedition reach the North Pole by dog sled and without resupply, the first such expedition since Peary in 1909.