The Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen developed a theory, based on his Artic field-research, that there must be a current somewhere between the North Pole and Franz Josef Land from the Siberian Arctic Ocean toward the coast of Greenland. There had to be a navigable passage between the seas east of Greenland and north of Asia. His theory was that the driftice finds its way across the unknown Arctic Ocean through this open link. Nansen believed that on the same ice it ought to be possible to bring an expedition along the same route.
His plan met not only with strong objections but also as nearly unanimous condemnation. To date no one had willingly gone into the ice, and many of the vessels which had been caught in the ice had been crushed by its pressure.
The die, however, were cast and the only question remaining was who could build a vessel according to Nansen's specifications. The choice was obvious: Colin Archer, Norway's foremost builder of wooden-hulled ships, became the order to build the world's strongest vessel. Archer was convinced that an upright-sided hull, even if made of steel, would not be strong enough to withstand the pressure of the pack ice. The hull (39 x 11 mtr.) was therefore constructed of Italian oak with rounded sides and bottom. A cross-section of the ship bore a close resemblance to a coconut shell with its top half missing. The purpose of the design was to enable the ship to rise on top of the ice as it is pressed against her sides, and thus avoid being crushed. The topsail schooner FRAM was launched on 26 October 1892.
FRAM embarked on her fabled voyage on Midsummer's Day, 24 June 1893. On the 22 September 1894 in the vicinity of the New Siberian Islands FRAM was forced to a final halt and was caught in the ice. The drift, however, did not go in one fixed direction as Nansen had predicted. Instead, the FRAM drifted in the right direction for a few days, only to backtrack to her point of departure. Often there was no progress at all for several weeks, driving Nansen and the crew to distraction. His theory had been dealt a serious blow. It was generally assumed that the Arctic Ocean was a shallow body of water, possibly with a mainland at some point. As the crew took regular soundings of the sea bottom, the measurements indeed pointed to a shallow polar basin, but this was only true initially. As the drift took the FRAM away from the coast, the waters increased in depth. When the bottom fell away to 4000 fathoms, and the sounding line could be lengthened no more, Nansen admitted that his theory of the current was not as valid as he had thought. Giving the enormous volumes of water in the Arctic Ocean, the supply emanating from the Gulf Stream and the Siberian rivers could only have a minimal effect on the current. Nevertheless, the drift did flow to the north and west.
FRAM proved to be really able to withstand the ice pressure. She was been pressed upwards by the constant collisions, and the voyage continued with the ship and her crew travelling on the ice. Everyday life aboard the ship consisted of gathering scientific data, hunting and tending to the dogs. The crew made skis, sledges and kayaks. They were keenly interested in the drift and its direction. Holes were drilled in the ice and by watching the lines who were dropped into them the men could judge the direction in which the vessel was drifting. But, as 1893 ebbed out, the drift continued to be unsatisfactory. Nansen was not the most popular member of the expedition. Prone to depressions, he was a difficult man to deal with. Finding it hard to contain his frustration, he calculated that given the nature of the drift, they might spent anywhere from five to eight years in the ice.
During the first half year of 1894 the drift continued in a westward direction and Nansen now arrived at the conclusion that the drift would definitely last for three years. He was no longer in doubt that the expedition would ultimately succeed, but believed that the FRAM was unlikely to drift higher than 85ºN. He decided that he was not prepared to give up the Pole. He decided to leave the ship and together with Hjalmar Johansen strike out for the Polar Point on skis and by sledge, with kayaks for the open water spots. Shipmaster Otto Sverdrup was instructed to lead the expedition further and to bring the FRAM safely back to Norway. When Nansen and Johansen left the FRAM they had provisions for 100 days.
What followed was an incredible journey of 462 days, first eating their dogs and then living off the land, particularly polar bear, walrus and seals. They never reached the Pole and survived the winter at Franz Josef Land. They made a six sq.m hut with stone and moss. A large log of driftwood became a ridge beam, over which they stretched two walrus skins for a roof. A bear skin was used for the entrance door.
In the next spring they made a makeshift catamaran of their two kayaks. They travelled harnessed to their ski-runnered sledges, at times paddling or sailing the two lashed kayaks. By accident they met the British polar Frederick G. Jackson and with his expedition vessel “Windward” they arrived in Vardø on the 13th August 1896.
On the same day the FRAM freed itself from the grip of the ice around Svalbard (Spitsbergen), having spent 1056 days in its clutches. On 20 August she entered Skjervøy Harbour where Sverdrup learned that Nansen had reached Vardø. Sverdrup immediately set sail for Tromsø, where Nansen and Johansen came on board, and the original crew was once again complete. The voyage had been completed and its accomplishments were viewed by everyone as remarkable. What followed was a triumphal cruise along the coast from Norway and the FRAM expedition was viewed as a zenith in the annals of exploration.
This first FRAM expedition had been an overwhelming success, its fame reverberating well beyond Norway's borders. Consul Axel Heiberg and the two founders of the Ringnes Brewery, Amund and Ellef Ringnes, where therefore willing to equip the FRAM for a new voyage of discovery. They formed the FRAM Shipping Company, leasing the vessel from the government. Since the first FRAM Expedition had yielded a prodigious quantity of scientific material which needed to be processed and evaluated, Nansen was unable to participate in the journey. However, a plan for the expedition began to evolve, calling for the vessel to penetrate as far as possible, in order to investigate the “white spots” on the map of Greenland's northern and western coasts. Once again, Nansen asked Otto Sverdrup to be de leader of this expedition.
The second FRAM Expedition lasted for four years and ran into formidable hurdles of a magnitude which put both the crew and ship in harm's way. There were 6 scientists on board for mapping and investigation the region in the northwest of Greenland. They spent their first winter in a well-sheltered inlet in the northern section of Rice Strait and christened it Frams Havn (Frams Harbor).
The expedition was a complete success, charting and discovering between 150.000 and 200.000 sq.km of land. The maps drawn by Lt. Gunmar Isachsen show 250 sites in the Canadian Arctic bearing Norwegian names, some of which are both descriptive and most likely the men's state of mind at the time the sites were christened. Among these are Møkka (Dung) Fjord, Hatten (the Hat), Nore Sound, Ekskrement (Excrement) Point, Hoved (Main) Island, and Smørgrautsberget (Butter Porridge Mountain). The western part of Ellesmere Land was named King Oscar Land and one sea was registered on the map as Crown Prince Gustav Sea.
No polar expedition charted such vast tracts of territory, and yielded so much scientific information as this expedition to North Canada. The dazzling amount of material be brought back took 30 researchers 20 years to process. Most of the Norwegian names on Ellesmere Land and Axel Heilberg Land have been retained on Canadian maps, although Smørgrautsberget was renamed Butter Porridge Point because it was unpronounceable for Anglo-Saxon tongues.
Sverdrup claimed the lands he discovered in the name of King Haakon VII, but the Norwegian government failed to follow up on his claim sovereignty, despite his many memoranda reminding the authorities that he annexed land and followed the procedures practised for hundreds of years to establish a land claim. Canada's sovereignty over the territories was approved by Norway by Royal Decree of 19 December 1931. Canada awarded Sverdrup $ 67.000 in recognition of his research and original maps, diaries and private journals.
Roald Amundsen had scarcely returned home from his universally acclaimed navigation of the North-West Passage on the Gjøa before he began to plan an expedition to the North Pole. He had a different idea from Fridtjof Nansen, who had deliberately allowed the FRAM to be frozen into the pack ice near the New Siberian Islands, on the theory that it would slowly drift on the Arctic current towards the Pole. Amundsen was convinced that sailing the Bering Strait would be more effective way of attaining the same goal - arriving at or near the Magnetic North Pole. Nansen agreed to lend Amundsen the FRAM, though not before giving the matter considerable thought.
The preparations for a second expedition to the North Pole caused bewilderment among the crew on more than one occasion. One source of complexity was Amundsen's luxury “observation” hut, which was to be brought along on the expedition. The seasoned mariners knew that once the structure was positioned on the ice, huge, churning ice blocks were bound to crush it. To the surprise and bewilderment of the crew, 97 Greenland dogs were loaded which were to make the long journey across the Equator and round South America and to bring to the Bering Strait, where the voyage to the Pole would finally commence in earnestness. Why, the men wanted to know, weren't the dogs boarded in Seattle or another American port?
On 2 September 1909, while the FRAM had been undergoing modifications, an extraordinary news story had broken: Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole on 21 April 1908. Only four days later, on 6 September, a second sensational story had made the headlines:
Admiral Peary had reached the North Pole on 6 April 1909, just a year after Dr. Cook. For Amundsen's considerations the time had now arrived for some tough decisions. A voyage to the North Pole was no longer of burning interest, making the work of raising funds still more difficult. Additionally, Amundsen was already deeply in debt in the aftermath of the Gjøa expedition. On 13 September 1909 Captain Scott informs the London Times that he planned a new expedition to the South Pole, who was till that time still undiscovered ………….
It was at this point that Amundsen decided on a radical change of plans. He was already inspired by Shackleton's attempt to reach the South Pole and he now chose definitive for a new destination: the South Pole. Till this moment the race to the South Pole was only in Amundsen's head going on. He confided his brother, who also acted as his secretary, and the ship's officers about the FRAM's new destination. The ship departed from Norway on 9 August 1910 and reached Funchal on Madeira's southern coast in September, while the world (and his crew) thought he was making for the Arctic. Here he unrolled a map tacked onto the foremast which to everyone's astonishment was of the southern hemisphere. A short briefing followed on the expedition's expanded plans: before conquering the North Pole, it was first to head for the South Pole. Finally the crew had an explanation for everything that had caused bewilderment during the preparations for the expedition - the hut, the boarding of the dogs and sundry other perplexing details.
The expedition's changed objectives required skilful handling of the information which would have to be communicated first to His Majesty the King, and then to Fridtjof Nansen. Subsequently, a telegram was also sent to Captain Robert Falcon Scott onboard “Terra Nova” telling him of on the expedition's revised plans. Now the press was informed. In England the reaction to Amundsen's expanded plans ranged from condescension about his changes of success to pure outrage in some circles. But now the race was on.
The Bay of Wales became FRAM's destination. This is the closest one can get to the South Pole by sea and it was a suitable place to make landfall on the Barrier. The Barrier, also called Shelf, is a nearly permanently frozen sea some two million sq.km. in area. During a stormy passage through the “Roaring Forties”, FRAM proved itself to be a highly seaworthy vessel in the roughest of conditions. On 14 January 1911 the Barrier was reached and roughly 4 km. from the landing site Framheim (Amundsen's hut) was erected and ready for occupancy. Around Framheim they pitched 16-man tents, 14 in all, for the dogs and storage. A small village had taken place. FRAM left the Barrier on 15 February, to sail as far south as possible, thus becoming the ship that had reached both farthest south and farthest north. She and her crew, now reduced to 10 men, then headed for Buenos Aires.
Now the two expeditions were almost ready to begin their assault on the South Pole, and the situation may be summarized as follows:
On 15 December, or rather 14 December since they had passed the dateline, and after carefully avoiding Scott's planned route, Amundsen, Bjaaland, Hassel, Hanssen and Wisting reached the Geographical South Pole. They erected a small, grey-brown canvas tent. Fastened to the tent pole was a Norwegian flag and under it an ensign on which was painted the name FRAM.
A bag was deposited in the tent containing a letter for HM the King detailing their achievements and a short letter to Scott, who Amundsen supposed would be the first to find the site. The place was christened Polheim.. They started back to base on 18 (17) December and reached Framheim on 26 January 1912, after an absence of 99 days.
5 days after Scott's departure the motorized sledges were abandoned and immobilized. But there was more setback. Scott's tent was unsuitable, there was no fur clothing, the ponies needed special fodder and found it difficult to make their way in the snow. The party's skiing abilities were poor, and there was only one set of snowshoes for the ponies, all off which impended their progress. At the distance of 730 km. from the Pole they had to shot their last pony, so only manpower was left. On 17 January, 34 days after Amundsen, a rather dispirited Scott found the Norwegian tent on the South Pole. On the way back a great deal of time was wasted finding their own tracks, who were never marked (as Amundsen did), and which had been covered up by snow drifts. 550 km. from their base the first man (of five) died. He was totally weakened, but probably also suffered from scurvy. The depots they made on the way to the Pole were under stocked so that the party was short of food and fuel, and their clothes were unsuitable for the harsh conditions, with temperatures down to minus 30 to 40 ºC. The suffered from frost-bitten feet and gangrene had begun to set in. 240 km from base camp they weren't capable to move on and finally died in their tent. By the end of that year the tragedy was discovered by a search party.
The FRAM reached Buenos Aires on 25 May 1912. Amundsen received a telegram that the FRAM could be one of the first ships to pass through the Panama Canal. The vessel was sailed to Colon, where it was docked from 3 October till 1 December 1913. The exact date for opening of the canal was still not set, so the FRAM was ordered to sail southwards and around Cape Horn, then northwards to San Francisco. When it arrived at Buenos Aires again after its 100-day journey, the FRAM badly needed an overhauling, as it had sustained damage during its passage through the tropics. In 1914, Captain Nilsen, who had taken over as skipper again, was ordered to sail FRAM to Horten. And the FRAM's day as an active Polar schooner came to an end.
Otto Sverdrup became the first chairman of the Committee to Preserve the Polar Ship FRAM. It is mainly thanks to him that the FRAM was saved from condemnation and break-up. He took the matter up with the authorities and led the way in the effort to restore her. He spent the winter of 1929 and spring 1930 in Larvik to supervise the FRAM's restoration.
Today the FRAM is preserved as a national monument in a building specially constructed for her near Oslo, known as the FRAM Museum. Walking on her deck and sitting in the saloon, with all the historic pictures, objects and paintings, you can still feel the heroic atmosphere and hear the cracking and creaking sound of the ice. There are also other comprehensive stories about Arctic expeditions and the complete story of Roald Amundsen, being told by pictures, the used materials and objects and the outside the building exposed Gjøa.