Postal History Gallery of Related Events
The party left in the spring . . . leaving Leffingwell to remain virtually alone for nine years making studies that led to the discovery of the North Slope oil fields in 1970.
While preparing for the voyage, the city of Victoria, B.C. adopted the expedition and provided much of the necessary support for the ship. Mail from the winter base on Flaxman Island is unknown due to the lack of contact with formal facilities.
What words go into these letters we collect -- what does a man write to his wife at a time of great decision? These questions are the reason we value our collections and prize these pieces of paper.
Walter Wellman, who had spent a lifetime reporting news, was pressed by the desire to make news by conquering the North Pole. He started his operations from Spitzbergen in 1893. His foe was a hard one and he returned after the first year certain that the only successful attainment of the pole would be through the air. He advocated a balloon flight from a point near Spitzbergen - and only a chance of fate caused him to miss the financial backer he sought. Two years later Salamond Andree advanced the same plan and flew to his death.
A second land expedition was projected from Franz Josef Land in 1898 which was ended by an arctic phenomena - an ice quake. The quake struck directly in the center of the camp and left the entire surrounding area untouched. The party sadly gave up the endeavor and returned to camp boasting only the conquering of 170 Arctic miles.
At the Portsmouth Peace Conference in 1905 Wellman was attracted by the French Lebaudy Dirigible Balloon. It was a motor driven, gas filled dirigible with a lifting capacity of 7500 pounds; in this machine he was sure he had found the vehicle in which he could attain the top of the world.
An unwieldy name, "Wellman Chicago Record Herald Polar Expedition" was placed on the venture to favor his sponsor who underwrote the required $250,000. The party occupied Andree's camp on Dane Island. The workmanship on the new type of craft proved to be faulty and 1906 was spent entirely in testing and building. During the winter months the craft was reconditioned and in 1907 the airship AMERICA was finally inflated and assembled. It must have filled their hearts with pride to see this craft, 186 feet long boasting a lifting capacity of 19000 pounds with three Lorraine-Dietrich 80 horse power engines capable of sustaining 18 miles per hour for 120 hours. The AMERICA was second in size only to the GRAF ZEPPELIN.
The newspapers were merciless in their attack on Wellman because they labeled his trip as a publicity stunt and accused him of not intending to make the flight at all. He resented this interference and fought constantly to prevent their stories from influencing his plans.
The year 1907 saw only a test flight which served to strengthen Wellman's theories, the important factor in the successful completion of his plans was the weather. The election year of 1908 passed by and he returned to Spitzbergen again, without knowing of Peary's success. He later admitted that he would not have returned had he known of it. On August 15, 1909, he began the flight which ended in 70 miles when the equalizer broke loose. The craft and crew were all saved.
Some people ask what he accomplished or hoped to accomplish. The answer is simply that he is one of a fraternity of men who refused to admit that nature could best man in the polar regions.
"THE ARCTIC FEVER IS IN OUR BLOOD AND THEIR IS NO CURE FOR SUCH PATIENTS BUT TO PUT THEM ON ICE . . ."
(Except where noted, exhibition pieces courtesy of George Hall)