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Ellsworth, Lincoln, 1880-1951



  • Existence: 1880 May 21 - 1951 May 28



Lincoln Ellsworth was an American explorer, engineer, and scientist.

Born in Chicago, Illinois.
Attended Yale and Columbia for university.
Assistant for the U.S. Biological Survey
Joined WW1 War effort where he learned to fly planes.
Led the John Hopkins University topographic expedition from the Amazon River basin over the Andes Mountains to Peru.
First Amundsen-Ellsworth expedition, financed by Ellsworth's father, flew from Spitsbergen, Norway, to Alaska, crossing the North Pole in two Dornier-Wal seaplanes, the N-24, and N-25. The attempt failed, and the crew got stranded.
Ellsworth founded and participated in a second flight with Amundsen and the Italian pilot, Umberto Nobile, from Spitsbergen to Teller, Alaska, successfully passing over the North Pole in the dirigible the Norge. This is considered the first traverse and surveying of the Polar Basin.
Married Mary Louise Ulmer.
Using a 400-ton staunch boat named the Wyatt Earp as a base and aircraft transporter Ellsworth planned to use his plane, the Polar Star to survey the area and achieve the first Transantarctic flight. Multiple attempts were unsuccessful, while waiting for favorable conditions He collected specimens and Nordenskjold objects which were later donated to the AMNH.
Achieved trans-Antarctic flight from Dundee Island to the Ross Ice Shelf, Ellsworth discovered what is known as the Ellsworth Mountains and a mountain range he christened as Eternity Range. Named its peak Mount Ulmer after his wife Mary Louise.
In 1939, he again flew over Antarctica and claimed the American Highland in the Indian Ocean quadrant. Ellsworth claimed approximately 350,000 square miles of the continent for the United States.
Ellsworth died at his home in New York City on May 28, 1951.


Lincoln Ellsworth was a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), an explorer, writer, and the first person to fly across both polar continents. Ellsworth donated many specimens and objects, collected on his Arctic and Antarctic trips, to the museum, which were later used in museum exhibits to educate the public about polar exploration. He was born in Chicago on May 12, 1880, to Eva Frances Butler and James William Ellsworth, a wealthy coal-mine operator. Ellsworth attended the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University and the School of Mines at Columbia University between 1900 and 1903. Afterward, he worked as a surveyor and engineer in Canada from 1903 to 1908, became an assistant for the U.S. Biological Survey from 1913 to 1915, and served in the U.S. Army during World War I, where he learned to fly.

Ellsworth’s first attempt to fly over the North Pole teamed him with the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and four other men. Funded by his father, on May 21, 1925, the expedition set out from Spitsbergen, Norway, in two Dornier-Wal seaplanes, the N-24, and N-25, to be the first to fly over the North Pole to Alaska in search of land masses. However, the seaplanes had to forcibly land on an open lead 156 miles (251 km) from the Pole due to intense winds and lack of fuel supply. The crew was separated and stranded after the lead closed, and one of the planes, the N-24, was wrecked. It took five days for the men to regroup and five attempts before they could take off with the remaining plane, the N-25, and return safely to Spitsbergen. Despite failing in its mission, the expedition brought back soundings that showed that there was no land on the European side of the Pole, along with other scientific data.

The following year, Ellsworth founded a second attempt. Amundsen and Ellsworth obtained a dirigible, the “Norge”, from the Italian government for this expedition. Along with the Italian explorer and engineer Umberto Nobile, as a pilot and 14 other men, they flew from Spitsbergen across the North Pole to Teller, Alaska, arriving on May 14. The journey took 72 hours and covered 3,393 miles (5,460 km). This is considered the first crossing and surveying of the Polar Basin, the largest remaining terrestrial "blind spot" at the time, that proved that no continental land mass could be found between the North Pole and Alaska. The achievement was commemorated in 1927 by the American Museum of Natural History and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society by presenting medals to Ellsworth and Amundsen. In 1927, Ellsworth was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for both flights.

In 1933, Ellsworth married Marie Louise Ulmer, and between that year and 1939 he made four expeditions to Antarctica. Inspired by the accomplishments of Sir Hubert Wilkins, who explored the coast of Graham Land, Antarctica, by air in 1928, and Richard Byrd, the first person to fly over the South Pole in November 1929, Ellsworth planned to survey the area himself and achieve the first Transantarctic flight. He used a 400-ton staunch boat named the “Wyatt Earp” as a base and aircraft transporter. Ellsworth's plane, the “Polar Star”, was loaded aboard. The first attempt was between 1933 and 1934, and it failed after the Polar Star was damaged beyond field repair. On the second occasion, from 1934 to 1935, the plane again suffered difficulties, and by the time it was fixed, the high temperatures brought a persistent fog that halted the flight. While waiting for the weather to cooperate, Ellsworth collected 150 specimens of 28 species of fossils on Snow Hill Island. Three of the species had never been found in the Antarctic before. These were all gifted to the American Museum of Natural History together with artifacts collected at Otto Nordenskjold's old hut on Snow Hill Island.

In 1935, Ellsworth made a third attempt with pilot Herbert Hollick-Kenyon. The expedition set out from Dundee Island, on the Antarctic Peninsula, to Ross Ice Shelf on November 23. During this flight, they discovered the highest mountain range in Antarctica, named the Ellsworth Mountains in his honor, and a mountain range he christened as Eternity Range. The plane ran out of fuel, forcing a landing near Little America II, an abandoned camp established by Byrd. Because of a faulty radio, Ellsworth and Hollick-Kenyon could not notify the authorities of their landing and, as a result, were declared missing. After almost two months alone in Little America, they were discovered on January 16, 1936, and returned to New York City on April 6. Overall, this Transantarctic flight covered 2,200 miles (3,541 km), out of which 1,200 miles (1,931 km) were unexplored territory.

In 1936, the National Geographic Society, which supported the Antarctic expedition, bestowed him the Hubbard Gold Medal for this accomplishment and his 2,500-mile aerial survey of the center of Antarctica. These feats also won Ellsworth a second Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, in 1937 he was awarded the Patron's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographic Society for his improved technique of polar aerial navigation. Ellsworth made one final expedition to Antarctica in 1939, this time to the Indian Ocean quadrant. In this expedition, he claimed an area of 80,000 square miles (207,199 Km2) for the United States and named it the American Highland. Ellsworth claimed around 350,000 square miles of the continent for the United States. He died at his home in New York City on May 28, 1951.


(1) Autobiography of Lincoln Ellsworth, 1880-1951.

(2) Annual Report 1933,


Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Identifier

Found in 10 Collections and/or Records:

Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile expedition photographs

Identifier: PPC .A48
Scope and Contents

Images of the polar flight expedition undertaken by Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth in 1925; the transpolar flight of Amundsen, Ellsworth, and Umberto Nobile in 1926; and an exhibition documenting the 1926 expedition at the American Museum of Natural History in 1930.

Dates: 1925-1930

Antarctic expedition field photographs

Identifier: PPC .E441
Scope and Contents

Captioned, "Antarctic island where Ellsworth found minerals" and "Lincoln Ellsworth." Latter has Ellsworth with a penguin.

Dates: 1939

[Autobiography] : [microform]

Identifier: Archives Microfilm #7

Department of Preparation and Installation exhibition accession records

Identifier: DR 135

Contains accession records, inventory lists, correspondence related to accession of art works and expedition memorabilia for AMNH exhibitions, such as Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, Admiral Byrd collection (including list of Antarctic Expedition equipment and correspondence between Byrd and curator), John Burroughs exhibit, Amundsen-Ellsworth Polar expedition. Also contains accession records book, correspondence, and master sheet from defunct Department of Geography.

Dates: 1927-1962

Lincoln Ellsworth Polar Expeditions Collection

Identifier: Mem 48
Scope and Contents The Lincoln Ellsworth Polar Expeditions Collection is comprised of papers and objects that document Ellsworth’s North Pole and Antarctic expeditions between 1925 and 1939. Select items from the collection are currently on display in the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibition, “Lincoln Ellsworth, 1880-1951" and have been featured in past ones, such as “Partners in Discovery” (1963-1964) and “From the Museum’s Attic” (1985-1951). Various reproductions were made by the museum for these...
Dates: Usage: 1925-circa 2005

Lincoln Ellsworth (1880-1951) / Left Side "Amer. Art. F'dry"

Identifier: Art Survey No. 125
Scope and Contents

Arctic Explorer. Bust relief head. Inscription: Left side "Amer. Art. F'DRY, N.Y." On front bottom "Cameograph/Lincoln Ellsworth/1925."

Dates: 1925

Lincoln Ellsworth Expedition to Graham Land photographs

Identifier: PPC .E442
Scope and Contents

Antarctic field photographs, features Snow Hill Island, wale bones, iceburgs, and penguins.

Dates: 1934-1935

Transatlantic flight Antarctic expedition photographs

Identifier: PPC .E44
Scope and Contents

Photographs of Lincoln Elsworth and ship, named Wyatt Earp, used on Antarctic expdetion.

Dates: 1933-1934