Polar Exploration

Tri-motor flown by Byrd to South Pole. Location no. HE1.22 p81Few endeavors in human history are more awesome than the explorations of the opposite poles of the earth by heroic individuals and teams during the 20th century. The last remaining unexplored expanses of the globe, the Arctic and Antarctic, attracted adventurers and scientists alike. Using dog sleds and sledge hauling in 1908, Frederick Cook made the first U.S. claim for having reached the North Pole. Others from the U.S. and other countries soon followed. Explorers of the Antarctic, in search of the geographic and magnetic poles, included, among others, Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson, and Roald Amundsen and their teams.

Beginning in 1968, the first of several teams of Minnesotans joined the quest when a group of four, led by Ralph Plaisted, held the world's interest as they journeyed to the North Pole. Using aircraft and snowmobiles, they were the first mechanized overland attempt to reach the Pole. In 1986, in a dog-sled expedition, Will Steger of Ely, Minnesota, and his team of four, including a woman—Ann Bancroft of Scandia, Minnesota—reached the North Pole sledge hauling. In 1993, Ann Bancroft, recognized as the first known woman to reach the North Pole, led a four-women group, the American Women's Expedition (AWE), in reaching the South Pole on foot, an historic achievement that won for her the distinction of being the first known woman to have reached both Poles. In 2001, she made history once again when she and Liv Arnesen of Norway became the first women to cross Antarctica.


  • The Arctic and Antarctic Trips, by Robert E. Matteson.
    [St. Paul, Minn.: R.E. Matteson, 1993].
    MHS call number: F 605.1 .M43 A3 1993d.
  • Crossing Antarctica, by Will Steger and Jon Bowermaster.
    New York: Knopf, 1992.
    MHS call number: G 850 1989 .I58 S74 1992.
  • Four to the Pole!: The American Women's Expedition to Antarctica, 1992-93, by Nancy Loewen and Ann Bancroft.
    North Haven, Conn.: Linnet Books, 2001.
    MHS call number: G 850 1992 .A43 A44 2001.
  • North to the Pole, by Will Steger, with Paul Schurke.
    [New York]: Time Books, 1987.
    MHS call number: G 630 .A5 S73 1987.
  • Polar Exploration.
    London: A. & C. Black, 1947.
    MHS call number: G 620 .C7 1947.
  • Pull on a Parka and Join the Circle: Record of an Arctic Expedition, August 1970, by Dorothy Olcott Elsmith, Frederick Lamont Gates.
    [Woods Hole, Mass.]: Elsmith, 1970.
    MHS call number: F 1060.92 .E48.
  • "Six Across Antarctica: Into the Teeth of the Ice," by Will Steger.
    In National Geographic, vol. 178, no. 5 (Nov. 1990): pp. 66-93.
    MHS call number: G 850 1989 .I58 S73 1990.
  • To the Top of the World: The Adventures and Misadventures of the Plaisted Polar Expedition, March 28-May 4, 1967, by Charles Kuralt.
    New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, [1968].
    MHS call number:
    G 670 1967 .P5.


  • Gordon Mikkelson Papers.
    This archival collection consists of papers related to the life and career of a Minneapolis civic leader, WCCO Radio executive, and conservationist. The collection includes a group of papers related to Mikkelson's work with the 1967 and 1968 Plaisted Polar Expeditions.
    MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks—filed under Mikkelson, Gordon—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 4 boxes plus 1 oversize folder of material, but not all relate to this topic); or use an electronic version of the inventory.
  • Plaisted Polar Expedition Papers.
    Newspaper clippings and other papers related to two snowmobile expeditions from northern Canada to the North Pole organized by Ralph Plaisted, a St. Paul insurance agent, snowmobile enthusiast, and amateur explorer. After an aborted attempt in 1967, Plaisted's group reached the North Pole in April 1968, the first mechanized expedition to do so and the first to arrive by sled since 1909.
    MHS call number: P1990; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is 1 folder of material).
    Ralph Plaisted's personal papers are at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
  • Trans-Antarctica Expedition Records.
    Newspaper clippings, magazine articles, newsletters, news releases, children's correspondence, essays and drawings, promotional and marketing files, daily expedition logs, subject files, video and audio tapes, posters, and photographs detailing a dogsled expedition to the Antarctic region (August 1989-March 1990) led by Will Steger of Ely, Minnesota. There is also some information on Steger's earlier dogsled expedition to the North Pole (1986) and a training run in Greenland (1988). The collection consists largely of public relations materials produced by and for the International Polar Expeditions organization. Many other files document extensive marketing efforts surrounding the expedition.
    Restriction: Quotation or publication beyond fair use provisions of the copyright law from many of the records less than 25 years old requires written permission. Duplication of photographs requires written permission.
    MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks—filed under International Polar Expeditions, Inc.—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 6 boxes plus 2 oversize folders of material).
  • Newspapers that may be useful for this topic:
    • Minneapolis Star Tribune (an index for articles published after 1970 is located in the Hubbs Microfilm Room)
      • Ralph Plaisted's "News Obituary" appeared in the September 11, 2008, issue of the Star Tribune, on page B10 of the Metro edition.
    • St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch (an index for articles published in 1967 or after is located in the Hubbs Microfilm Room)
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.