How North Pole Expeditions Work

By: Tiffany Connors

North Pole Firsts

Members of an expedition to the North Pole in May 1971, led by Italian millionaire Guido Monzino
Members of an expedition to the North Pole in May 1971, led by Italian millionaire Guido Monzino
Peter Pagh/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There continue to be many North Pole "firsts" -- it's a wonder that people aren't bumping into each other on their journeys. Here are just a few of the history-makers:

  • First black man: Matthew Henson reached the North Pole in 1909 as part of the Robert Peary expedition.
  • First confirmed flight over the North Pole: Norwegian Roald Amundsen (with Umberto Nobile, Lincoln Ellsworth and 11 others) on May 12, 1926, at 1:30 a.m. in an airship.
  • First submarine: the USS Nautilus was the first to navigate under the Pole on Aug. 3, 1958.
  • First solo journey by dogsled: Naomi Uemura of Japan, reached the North Pole on April 29, 1978, after covering 450 miles in 57 days.
  • First woman: Ann Bancroft, the only female member of the Steger International Polar Expedition, in 1986
  • First motorcycle trip: Fukashi Kazami (Shinji Kazama) on April 20, 1987
  • First solo, unsupported trip: Norwegian Borge Ousland, on April 23, 1994
  • First unsupported journey to the North Pole and back: Richard Weber (of Canada) and Mikhail Malakhov (of Russia) took a 121-day journey, ending on May 12, 1995.
  • First all-female expedition to reach the North Pole: McVitie's Penguin Polar Relay Team, May 26, 1997
  • First successful hot-air balloon trip: Debbie Harding became the first person to lead a hot-air balloon flight over the Pole in 1998.
  • First long-distance swim at the North Pole: Lewis Gordon Pugh made it .6 miles (1 kilometer) in 29 F (-2 C) saltwater in July 2007. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, Pugh had no permanent damage after the plunge, but the fingers on one hand stayed numb for several days [source: Lamb].
  • First black woman: Barbara Hillary was 75 years old when she reached the North Pole in April 2007.