Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen. October 10, 1861 – May 13, 1930. Norwegian polar explorer, zoologist, founder of physical oceanography, political and public figure, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.


Life and Work:

1. He could have become an artist – in this case, physical oceanography would have been founded by someone else. He could have become a king of Norway, but the constitution required the king to be a Protestant, while Nansen was an atheist. He became what he became: famous traveler, scientist, rescuer.


2. Throughout his his, the diplomat, public figure, and great traveler Fridtjof Nansen had been confirming his favorite phrase: “The difficult is what takes a little time. The impossible is what takes a little longer.”


3. The Nansen family is of Danish origin. And polar travel was in Fridtjof Nansen’s blood: his great-great-great-grandfather, the merchant Hans Nansen was 16 when he made his first White Sea voyage. Later, he explored the Arkhangelsk coast at the request of Russian Tsar Michael I. Hans Nansen spoke Russian and served as an interpreter for King Christian IV.


4. It was not until the 18th century that the Nansens moved to Norway. According to family legend, Fridtjof Nansen was a second cousin of King Frederick VIII, the father of King Haakon VII of Norway.


5. The Nansen family were ardent sports enthusiasts. Fritjof learned to ski at the age of two. Since the age of 15, he had regularly participated in cross-country skiing competitions; at the age of 16, he set a world record in 1-mile speed skating; at the age of 17, he won the Norwegian Cross-Country Skiing Championship for the first time. For the first, but not the last time: Nansen is a twelve-time ski champion of Norway.


6. The Nansens did not buy toys for their children. Fritjof made his own bow and arrows, fishing rods, and other things to amuse himself.


7. When choosing a profession, Fridtjof Nansen did not follow his father’s example or advice. He did not become a lawyer like his father, he did not join the military either. He was attracted to zoology: due to his youthful inexperience, he thought that studying zoology was associated with staying in nature all the time, which he had liked since childhood.


8. Zoology, or rather the seals he studied, eventually led Nansen to the high latitudes. His passion for polar expeditions started with sailing on the seal schooner Viking.


9. Fridtjof Nansen defended his doctoral dissertation 4 days before the start of the expedition through the continental ice of Greenland. The opponents had objections, but they were ignored: everyone was sure that the applicant would not return alive from the risky endeavor. The higher board found it unimportant whether the word “doctor” will appear in the obituary.


10. Later, a similar situation happened again. When the scientific community learned about the plan to reach the pole, it was declared “a perfectly developed suicide plan.”


11. The journey to the pole became the main work of Fridtjof Nansen’s life. He designed and built Fram himself – it was not just a ship, but a real scientific instrument thoroughly designed for swimming through the ice and with the ice. The wide hull and rounded sides made the vessel look like an egg, and for a good reason: the ice would not crush a ship shaped like that, but rather squeeze it out.


12. According to the maritime custom, Nansen’s wife, Eva, christened the ship with champagne at launch. Nansen would later recall this in the dedication to his memoir: “To the one who named the ship and had the courage to wait.”


13. In June 1893, Fram (“Forward” in Norwegian) sailed from the Norwegian capital, Oslo. On board the ship was its creator, thirteen crew members, as well as a supply of provisions for five years and fuel for eight. Fram took course towards the New Siberian Islands in order to freeze in the ice there and drift with it to the North Pole and then to Greenland.


14. It did not work out as planned. Fram did not reach the pole. Nansen and his companion Johansen tried to reach it on foot, but at a latitude of 86 degrees and 14 minutes were forced to stop – the path was blocked by open water.


15. After spending winter on Franz Josef Land, Nansen returned home on a ship of the British expedition. Fram arrived there exactly a week later. Still, Nansen’s expedition was not a failure – no one came closer to the pole than the Norwegian at that time.


16. The research conducted aboard Fram made a significant contribution to science. On its own hide, that, steel hull, Fram confirmed that Nansen was right, while a three-year drift in the Arctic confirmed the northern ice drift theory.


17. Nansen’s daughter, Liv, saw her father only when she was three. But her name already graced the world map: Nansen named two islands of Franz Josef Land after his wife and daughter: Eva and Liv. Forty years later, it turned out that the islands were connected by an isthmus and the names were joined: now this island is called Evaliv.


18. After Norway gained independence in 1905, Nansen was appointed the first Norwegian ambassador to the United Kingdom.


19. Fridtjof Nansen did not manage to get to Antarctica as he wanted. It was Roald Amundsen who sailed there aboard Fram. Nansen later confessed to his son Odd that he had seen Fram sailing off from his study at Polhøgda Manor, and it had been one of the most distressing events of his life.


20. Yet Nansen managed to travel some more: he sailed to the mouth of the Lena River, traversed the Trans-Siberian Railway. Following a trip to Siberia, Nansen wrote the book Through Siberia – The Land Of The Future. Since then, he had always been interested in Russia.


21. In 1921, the chairman of the Red Cross commission for helping the starving people of the Volga Region came to Russia. His invaluable help in saving thousands of lives was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922.


22. In parallel with the rescue of the starving people in Volga Region, Nansen undertook to save refugees. On 1 September 1921, Nansen assumed the position of the League of Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and stateless persons have received Nansen passports. This activity was awarded the Nobel Prize: in 1938, it was awarded to the Nansen International Office for Refugees in Geneva.


23. Despite his work in the League of Nations, Fridtjof Nansen found time for scientific research and continued to publish extensively. In 1926, he started to work on the expedition aboard the airship Graf Zeppelin. But the funding was insufficient, it was again Roald Amundsen who pioneered the exploration of the Arctic aboard the airship and reached the North Pole.


24. On May 17, 1930 – the day of the national holiday of Norway – mourning flags were hung on the streets of Oslo and other country’s cities. The country grieved: its national hero died.


25. Nansen’s name is mentioned on the map of the Arctic and Antarctic for 25 times.


26. Since 1948, Polhøgda, Nansen’s former manor, has been home to the Fridtjof Nansen Institute – an independent institution dedicated to research in the fields of environmental protection, energy, and development of resource management methods and policies.


27. In honor of Nansen, the oceanic fish Nansenia from the Microstomatidae family was named.


28. There are three monuments to Nansen in the former USSR: in Yerevan, Moscow, and Samara. They commemorate his great merits in the fight against hunger and in rescuing refugees.