Who Was Roald Amundsen & Why Was He Such An Important Figure Polar Exploration?

Sarah Heath

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen Antarctic expedition leader

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was born in 1872 near Oslo. He was a Norwegian explorer, famed for being the first man to reach the South Pole in December 1911. He beat British fellow explorer, Captain Robert Scott and his team, by 35 days. His team comprised five men, 52 dogs and four sleds. There was no modern-day technology or equipment to help them, making the achievement of exactly one hundred and ten years ago even more noteworthy. Read on to find out some more Roald Amundsen facts.


Pole position

Roald Engelbregt Gravning and his dog

The expedition team took almost two months to reach the South Pole from their base camp in Antarctica. Roald Amundsen’s route map took them over challenging mountains and dangerous crevasses. Amundsen marked his team’s arrival by planting the Norwegian flag. He stayed at the South Pole for three days in order to rest and prepare for the journey back to base camp. All five men made it back, but only 11 dogs survived the trip. Overall, Amundsen’s expedition covered more than 1,800 miles across the hostile, frozen landscape.

Seven years after Roald Amundsen’s South Pole expedition, he set out once again to explore uncharted areas of the Arctic Ocean by ship. Here, he managed to break his arm and nearly get killed by polar bears. His ship also spent months trapped in the frozen ice. However, these problems did not dent his passion for exploration.


North and South

Norwegian flag at the South Pole

Most of us would consider being the first person to travel to the South Pole an achievement of a lifetime. However, Amundsen wanted to make it a double by reaching the North Pole as well. In 1926, he achieved his goal of embarking upon the first North Pole expedition. He joined forces with Italian explorer and aviator, Umberto Nobile, aboard his airship, Norge. The airship was almost 350 feet long and was fuelled by hydrogen gas.


Together, Amundsen and Nobile flew over the North Pole, dropping their country’s flags out of the plane as they did so. Just wo years later, Roald Amundsen died in a plane crash during a rescue attempt, to try and save some of Nobile’s crew from a crashed airship. He never married or had children, although a number of romantic affairs were rumoured to have taken place.


Amundsen’s legacy

Roald Amundsen cruise ship

Several features in Antarctica are named after the famous Antarctic explorer. These include glaciers, bays and coastal areas, all now permanent reminders of Roald Amundsen’s achievements. The Amundsen Trail in New York also pays tribute to his name, as does the famous Norwegian author, Roald Dahl. There is even a Roald Amundsen cruise ship. The Hurtigruten MS Roald Amundsen joined the shipping company’s fleet in 2019. It is a hybrid vessel that uses environmentally sustainable propulsion technology to reduce fuel consumption while at sea.



A Roald Amundsen film was released in 2019, detailing the exploits of the famous Antarctica explorer. Called Amundsen it was directed by Norwegian director, Espen Sandberg, and starred Norwegian actor, Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen.


Commemorative medallions

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Historical Medallion

As with any feat of such magnitude, a number of medals and medallions were cast to commemorate Amundsen’s Antarctic and Arctic South explorations, including his historic journeys to both the South Pole and North Pole. One such medallion made in 1912 depicts the bust of Roald Amundsen by an unknown artist. On the other side of the bronze, 50mm medallion, there is the date of 16 December 1911 – the day Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole, beating competing British explorer, Captain Robert Scott by just over a month. Next to the date is an igloo to represent the icy, frozen conditions encountered by Amundsen and his team. To find out more about this and other explorer-themed medals and medallions:

Discover the medallion: 1912 Roald Amundsen - Explorer Historical Medallion

Discover the Explorer Collection for other famous explorer medals

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