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Who was Roald Amundsen?

Roald Engebreth Gravning Amundsen of Norway took pride in being referred to as "the last of the Vikings." A powerfully built man of over six feet in height, Amundsen was born in 1872 into a family of merchant sea captains and prosperous ship owners. As a youth he insisted on sleeping with the windows open even during the frigid Norwegian winters to help condition himself for a life of polar exploration. In honor of his accomplishments, Scandinavians in Chicago in 1928 requested that the new high school at Damen and Foster be named after him.

In 1897 Amundsen sailed as first mate on the Belgica in a Belgian expedition that was the first to winter in the Antarctic. In 1903 he established himself as a sailor and explorer of the first order when he successfully led a 70-foot fishing boat through the entire length of the Northwest Passage; the arduous journey took three years to complete as Amundsen and his crew had to wait while the frozen sea around them thawed enough to allow for navigation; his east-west journey ended at Herschel Island in the Yukon in 1905. This achievement whetted his appetite for further polar exploration.

By August of 1910, Amundsen decided to become the first person to reach the South Pole. While the world thought he was headed toward the opposite pole, he had secretly ruled this out as Americans Robert Peary and Frederick Cook had already laid claim to that feat. Amundsen even kept his plans for a South Pole expedition a secret from the Norwegian government. It was not until Amundsen's ship, Fram, was well off the coast of Morocco that he announced to his crew that they were headed for the South, not the North, Pole.

On October 18, 1911, Amundsen's entourage set out from the Bay of Whales, on Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, for their drive toward the pole. Crucial to Amundsen's success in reaching the South Pole was his use of carefully selected sled dogs. Amundsen's canine crew members had been superbly equipped by centuries of natural selection for survival in the Arctic. He referred to them as "our children," and revealed, "The dogs are the most important thing for us. The whole outcome of the expedition depends on them." Amundsen set out with 4 companions, 52 dogs, and 4 sledges on Oct. 19, 1911, and, after encountering exceptionally good weather, arrived at the South Pole on December 14, 1911. At approximately 3:00 P.M. that day Roald Amundsen raised the flag of Norway, naming the spot Polheim -- "Pole Home." He and his crew returned to their base camp on January 25, 1912, 99 days and 1,860 miles after their departure.

Roald Amundsen lived to experience other polar adventures, but the Arctic would eventually claim his life, too. While flying on a rescue mission in 1928, Amundsen was killed when his plane crashed into the Arctic Ocean. Earlier that year, speaking to a journalist about his love of the icy Arctic, Amundsen said, "If only you knew how splendid it is up there, that's where I want to die."

Roald Amundsen: first to reach the South Pole, the first to make a ship voyage through the Northwest Passage, and one of the first to cross the Arctic by air. He was one of the greatest figures in the field of polar exploration.