History Behind The Card: Andrée’s Balloon
Card #nn of 30, American Tobacco Company (Hassan brand), Arctic Scenes set from 1910.
- Salomon August Andrée, born October 18, 1854 in Gränna, Småland, Sweden – dying, it is assumed in October, 1897 on Kvitøya, Arctic Norway;
- Nils Gustaf Ekholm, born October 9, 1848 in Smedjebacken in Dalarna, Sweden – April 5, 1923 in Stockholm, Sweden;
- Nils Strindberg, born September 4, 1872 in Stockholm, Sweden – dying, it is assumed in October, 1897 on Kvitøya, Arctic Norway;
- Knut Frænkel, born on February 14, 1870 in Karlstad, Sweden – dying, it is assumed in October, 1897 on Kvitøya, Arctic Norway.
I found the above Hassan tobacco card on-line at an auction site, and thought that while the art on the card was simply beautiful, that the subject matter was simply sad.
The card depicts a hydrogen balloon over the Arctic ice trying to reach the North Pole in 1897.
That the card was issued in 1914 (some 17 years later) it was also interesting to me, as to why a failed expedition was still garnering enough attention to warrant its own collector’s card.
Andrée was a Swedish engineer, physicist, polar explorer and an aeronaut.
Born in the small town of Gränna, Sweden, he went to Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology graduating in 1874 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Two years later, he attended the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, U.S. where he worked at the Sweden pavilion as a janitor—proof positive that he was not above doing what it takes to do (or see) what he wanted.
During breaks from sweeping up fallen meatballs, he read a book on trade winds and met John Wise, an American balloonist, both of which fueled his newfound passion with balloons.
After returning to Sweden, he opened up his own machine shop, working at it until poor financial returns forced him to close it in 1880.
From 1880 to 1882 he was an assistant at the Royal Institute of Technology.
Between 1882–1883 Andrée was part of a Swedish scientific expedition to Spitsbergen, Norway led by Nils Ekholm. Andrée’s job was to check on air electricity.
From 1891 to 1894 Andrée was a member of the Stockholm, Sweden city council. From 1885 on, he worked for the Swedish patent office.
Even during such mundane times sitting on city council or within the patent office, Andrée was still a scientist at heart, and wrote and published journals on air electricity, conduction of heat, and on some inventions of his own.
He was all in for science and technology, and was completely unskilled in arts and literature. He did believe, that the emancipation of women would come as a consequence of technical progress.
Balloon To The North Pole
It was 1896, and no one had yet successfully managed to reach the North Pole… or if they had, no one had successfully returned back to boast of the accomplishment… however, physical evidence suggests that no one had made it… and wouldn’t, until either Fred Cook on April 21, 1908 or one year later, the better documented case of Robert Peary and company on April 6, 1909.
Back around 1897, Sweden was in this whole ultra-nationalism kick. Look at us, we’re Sweden. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. I like Sweden. I even had a penpal a few years ago who sent me a Swedish Donald Duck book! I would have married her just for that! Of course, I like Sweden now, but would I have liked them in the early 20th century?
But in the case of Andrée and people like him, he was swept up in it, and seemed willing to do whatever it took to make Sweden great in the eyes of the world.
Andrée’s attempt to reach the North Pole was supported by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and funded by people like King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel the Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist who was known as the inventor of dynamite.
(Ed. Note: Nobel, by the way, bequeathed his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes after reading a premature obituary of himself that showed him as someone who profited from the sales of arms and munitions. In 1888, his brother Ludvig had died, and newspapers mistakenly thought it was Alfred. So, in 1895, afraid he would be remembered in a negative light, Alfred Nobel donated most of his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes. He died—this time for sure—in 1896 of heart disease leading to a stroke.)
As for Andrée, his polar exploration project was seen in Sweden as one of enormous public interest, while also showing him to be brave and patriotic. Gooooo Swe-den!
Neighboring Norway, by the way, was already considered the world player in Arctic exploration.
When drumming up backers, Andrée told people that since he was planning on flying a hydrogen balloon over the North Pole during the summer months, the Arctic weather would not be an issue.
That sounds plausible. Heck, if you look at the photo near the bottom, you’ll see clear blue skies in August…
Andrée said that thanks to a six-month summer offering with six months of midnight sun, the crew would be able to make observations around the clock which would halve the amount of time required to make them.
I’m unsure if that means people would be awake all the time, but I’ll let that go.
He says that the crew would not have to anchor the balloon at night for rest, meaning it could travel 24/7.
Of snow on the balloon, Andrée shrugged it off saying: “precipitation at above-zero temperatures will melt, and precipitation at below-zero temperatures will blow off, for the balloon will be traveling more slowly than the wind.”
The audience ate it up, being unaware of such simple concerns as summer Arctic storms, fog, high humidity, and ice formation… which was always a big concern.
Still… the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences approved Andrée’s budget of 130,800 kronor (about US $10million in today’s moolah).
Of that 130,000 kroner, the balloon itself would cost 36,000 kroner.
Sweden’s King Oscar II donated 30,000 kroner to cover the expedition’s budget.
At this moment in history—up until Cook and Peary—hundreds of people had attempted to reach the magnetic North Pole, but none save Andrée ever attempted to do so by balloon.
There’s probably a reason for this… oh yeah… stupid cold… and being up in a windy environment would be even colder for the crew.
Andrée figured that it would take no more than 43 hours to pass over the North Pole, where he would then land six days after that in Asia or Alaska (depending on the wind, and then walk to civilization if necessary.
His plan was to let his hydrogen-filled balloon be moved across the sky from Svalbard (before 1925, it was known as Spitsbergen), across the Arctic Sea to the Bering Strait, to fetch up in Alaska, Canada, or Russia, passing near or even right over the North Pole on the way.
Spitsbergen is 650 miles from the North Pole. With 30 mile per hour winds, and flying 19 hours a day, it could only take about two days… easy-peasy.
This type of scenario always reminds of Gilligan telling the Skipper (on the 1960s Gilligan’s Island television show): “Well Skipper, from here on it looks like smoooooooth sailing.”
Andrée was Sweden’s first balloonist, and previously he had used his own balloon. the Svea, on nine journeys… using the strong prevailing westerlies (winds) to blow the balloon – even uncontrollably across the Nordic climes, occasionally having the winds slam the balloons basket across rocks or even skim water surfaces such as the Baltic Sea.
For a couple of the treks, He used a drag-rope steering technique he developed… and this was his plan of steering for the North Pole expedition.
For a drag-rope steering technique, the drag ropes that hang from the balloon basket and drag part of their length on the ground, are designed to counteract the tendency of lighter-than-air craft to travel at the same speed as the wind… it’s what makes steering by sails impossible.
But Andrée felt that the friction of the ropes would slow the balloon to the point where the sails would have an effect (beyond that of making the balloon rotate on its axis)…. IE, it made the craft more steerable.
Andrée felt that his drag-rope technique provided a 10-degree deviation in either way from actual wind direction.
Uh… yeah. I’m no physicist, but that doesn’t seem like a practical means of achieving steering… especially if the winds involved are very strong, where it could turn a balloon and basket and tip it… not to mention possible rope snags… or ropes snapping in excessive cold…
Team Sweden Takes Off
It’s 1896. The polar exploration balloon was built by Henri Lachambre in Paris—the city was well-respected as being the best at balloon design and manufacturer.
The balloon was a varnished three-layer silk balloon, 20.5 meters (67 feet) in diameter, and was originally named Le Pôle Nord (French for “The North Pole“), but was later renamed Örnen (Swedish for “Eagle”).
The balloon manufacturer had to figure out how to create accommodations for a three-man crew aboard, eventually providing sleeping berths at the floor of the basket, along with some of stores and provisions.
Because the balloon would use hydrogen gas, cooking could not be done on the balloon, so a modified primus stove designed by a friend of Andrée’s was created where it could be dangled over the basket’s edge some eight meters (26 feet) below, and then lit from the basket at a safe distance.
An angled mirror attached to the stove would allow the crew to determine if the stove was lit or not.
Along with Andrée, the crew of the 1896 balloon expedition would include Nils Gustaf Ekholm and Nils Strindberg.
Ekholm was an experienced Arctic meteorological researcher, and the former boss of Andrée during the 1882-1883 science expedition to Spitsbergen.
Strindberg was a student involved in chemistry and physics.
The expedition’s purpose was to do an aerial map of the North Pole area by aerial photography, something Strindberg was supposedly good at.
Smart men all, these scientists, but none especially robust… but what the heck… Andrée figured the journey would be an easy one.
Even before the balloon began its trek, strong north winds blew the Örnen straight at the balloon hangar at Danes Island (it’s just off the coast of Spitsbergen), forcing them to give up.
The released hydrogen from the balloon, packed up, and went home.
Perhaps that was a good thing.
After being built in Paris, France, the Örnen was delivered directly to the take-off point on Spitsbergen.
Without ever having been tested.
After inflating the balloon in preparation for lift-off, tests showed that the balloon was leaking hydrogen at a rate far more than expected.
Ekholm has previously monitored the Örnen’s ability to remain aloft, discovering while it was in the hangar, that the balloon was losing about 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of lift force a day owing to all of the leaking hydrogen. He felt that there was no way the balloon would ever be able to make the proposed journey.
There some one million stitching holes in the balloon, and glued silk coverings were still unable to stymie the release of gas.
So why would Ekholm still have gone on the trip?
While his measurements showed such a fast release of hydrogen gas, and he had told Andrée as much, he was always stymied when the process of gas release was never at the same rate from one day to the next…
What Ekholm didn’t know, was the Andrée had ordered workers at the hangar to add hydrogen gas during the night, and to keep it hush-hush.
Apparently a proponent of “no pain, no gain”, Andrée thew caution to the wind, believing instead that technology would win out… failing to realize that the physics of a loss of hydrogen could be disastrous.
Anyhow, it was after the failure to launch when the entire team was heading back to Sweden that Ekholm learned of Andrée’s deception.
Why would Andrée do this? Was Swedish pride that important? Apparently. Go Sweden?
Needless to say, Ekholm wanted no part of a second attempt at journeying past the North Pole if it was with Andrée.
Team Sweden Take II – 1897
The 1897 expedition team consisted of just three individuals, Andrée, returnee Nils Strindberg, and Knut Frænkel who was apparently only 27, but looks 50 in the photo below:
During the balloon expedition, Frænkel was responsible for writing the detailed protocols of everything done by the participants… something he did longer than the length of the balloon ride.
For this expedition, the team would again use the hydrogen-filled polar balloon the Örnen.
Taking off from Spitsbergen on July 11, 1897, the polar balloon Örnen was
trouble from the get-go.
Again, the balloon had problems in retaining hydrogen gas, but the first problem occurred at lift-off, when the balloon lost two of the three total sliding ropes that were supposed to drag on the ice. Even if the drag-rope technique COULD have worked, it wasn’t going to now with only a single rope.
Steering? Uh-oh… fewer drag ropes, less rudder control—at least according to Andrée’s drag rope technology.
Ten hours after lifting off, the Örnen was struck by heavy winds from a nearby storm, which brought with it rain, turning into ice forming on the balloon skin, with weighed it down—together with the nasty winds, severely impeded the balloon’s flight.
I’m betting it was cold, too.
After 65 hours of flight, and with the Örnen losing hydrogen gas far too quickly, the balloon came down in a semi-controlled descent onto the pack ice. While everyone survived unscathed, it meant a very long trek south over a drifting landscape to be rescued.
They had traveled 295 miles (475 kilometers)… and that’s how far they would have to walk back.
But at least they had proper Arctic gear, right?
I am unsure just why they were so ill-prepared traveling without proper Arctic clothing and other supplies—perhaps Andrée believed that the power of technology would ensure they would not crash. Whatever the reason, the three expedition members were screwed.
But despite being ill-prepared with the warmest of coats, they survived.
Diet, Diet, Diet
The balloon was carrying three sledges and a boat, and had enough supplies for the three-man crew to last three months.
Also, on their way back south, they could also find supply caches left by other Arctic ground expedition crews: three in northern Svalbard and one in Franz Josef Land.
Franz Josef Land was their best best, as it was closest to where they wanted to end up…
One week into their new journey, they discovered that the shifting ice they were walking on had moved them too far west, so they changed tactics and headed north to one of the cache of supplies in northern Svalbard.
Okay… moving north… in the Arctic… but understandable if they needed to gather enough supplies to make the long trek back south to the home base.
Even going north proved to be a challenge. If it wasn’t for the huge snow drifts, there were piled mini hills of pack ice—a pain when pulling the sledges.
It wasn’t a lack of food—they supplemented their food reserves by shooting polar bears—it was the physical toll from the travel over the uneven terrain.
They walked, and walked and walked, and at some point in October, the weather in the Arctic became more winter like… at which point in time the three were on Kvitøya (White Island).
The place (Kvitøya) has an area of 682 square kilometers (263 square miles), and is considered to be the easternmost part of Norway. It’s called White Island because it is almost completely covered with a dome of white ice, and what isn’t covered by ice is barren and rocky.
Needless to say, Andrée, Strindberg and Frænkel perished there.
Strindberg died first, as evidenced by him buried under rocks in a grave. Andrée and Frænkel… they were found many years later inside a tent.
When the camp was rediscovered in 1930, the diary notes and observation books were found, too, both kept up-to-date until just a few days after landing on Kvitøya.
There are no notes on why Strindberg died. However, the diary says that all three men had suffered, at some time, digestive issues, illness and exhaustion.
Modern researchers believe it is possible that they may have died from eating polar bear meat containing Trichinella parasites. An examination of a dead polar bear found at the site and likely killed by the three men showed it to contain the parasites.
Of course, it could also have been issues with the provisions they were carrying around with them.
Whatever the reason… they died.
When the remains of the last camp were found in 1930 by the Norwegian Bratvaag Expedition, they brought back with them two bodies—I’ll assume they didn’t initially find Strindberg.
A month later the ship M/K Isbjørn, hired by a newspaper, made additional finds, including the third body.
They found notebooks, diaries, photographic negatives, the boat and many utensils and other objects.
The return of bodies of Andrée, Strindberg and Frænkel was a big deal for Sweden, with King Gustaf V speaking at the funeral.
Each body was cremated, and had their ashes interred (mixed together) at the Norra begravningsplatsen cemetery in Stockholm.
To others, I’ll leave the hand-wringing and questioning of the fool’s folly of undertaking such an expedition.
Say what you will, the members of this expedition were at the very least brave, brave people.
Andrée Land in Greenland was named after him by Swedish Arctic explorer A.G. Nathorst. I’m guessing there’s not the same amount of love (or hate) for Strindbery or Frænkel.