Polar bears as draft animals, Uranienborg and arguing about the North Pole

In 1907, Norwegian and foreign newspapers begin to print stories about Roald Amundsen’s new experiment. Together with the German animal tamer Carl Hagenbeck, Amundsen wants to train polar bears to pull sledges on polar expeditions.

Hagenbeck is an optimist. He tells the journalists that it will also be possible to teach the bears to sleep in tents at night, so that Amundsen and the others can lie next to soft and warm polar bear fur every time they camp. But polar bears are not be used on expeditions. Already in the summer of 1908, Amundsen gives up, explaining to the newspapers:

“The polar bears are such that once they have got used to the heat, they cannot bear to be brought back into the cold again. And the training took too long. The animals were both willing and obedient. But when such animals are civilized, then they do not thrive in the polar cold. The last time I saw them was at Hagenbeck’s, when they were so over-cultivated that they used iron rods from the cage as toothpicks.”

In May 1908, Roald buys a parcel of land at Nedre Rødsten in Svartskog. He names the house he chooses to live in Uranienborg. Leon Amundsen and his family later move into the neighbouring house, which becomes known simply as Rødsten.

In November of the same year, Amundsen presents plans for a new expedition to the Norwegian Geographical Society in Kristiania (Oslo). The plan is to drift across the Arctic Ocean, but only years later will he get the chance to try.

Newspaper drawing of Amundsen’s presentation of his new plans. Source: Dagens Nyt 11.11.1908.

In March 1909, Amundsen is visited at Uranienborg by the well-known photographer Anders Beer Wilse. Amundsen is photographed in several places inside the house and outside. Among other things, he poses in fur clothes on the rocks at the water’s edge. The photograph is retouched and used in several contexts, and in Amundsen’s own book from 1927 it is presented as if it were taken in Antarctica.

Amundsen posed for Wilse in 1909. Editing the background later allowed the image to be used as
an illustration of Amundsen in polar regions. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

In September 1909 comes the news in Norwegian newspapers that the North Pole has been reached. First comes a report that American Frederick Cook stood at the Pole on April 21, 1908. Days later comes Robert Peary’s claim to have reached the North Pole first in April 1909, along with the accusation that Cook is a fraud.

The claims of both expeditions are still being debated.

After reading the news about Cook and Peary, Amundsen informs his own crew that their planned expedition has been postponed. He then goes to Copenhagen to meet Cook, and secretly begins planning an expedition to Antarctica and the South Pole.

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