Roald Amundsen himself admitted that he was not that good with money. It was said that he saw money as a means and not an end in itself. Throughout his life, he relied on others to take care of his finances.

But in September 1924, everything collapsed and Roald Amundsen filed for bankruptcy.

When the bankruptcy became fact, the newspapers wrote that Amundsen owed around 350,000 kroner (approximately 8,500,000 kroner at today’s prices) to several different creditors. Rumors also quickly began to spread. Maybe it was all a financial manoeuvre to avoid repaying debt? Was there a move by the brothers Roald and Leon Amundsen to deceive the creditors? Or was it all a desperate attempt by Roald Amundsen to secure ownership of the properties at Svartskog? In recent years, ownership of Uranienborg (Roald’s home) and Rødsten (Leon and family’s home) had alternated between Roald and Leon, and for a polar explorer in need of money, the houses had great value in several ways.

Rødsten. Photo: Follo museum, MiA / Private collection.
Uranienborg. Photo: Follo museum, MiA / Private collection.

The real cause of Roald Amundsen’s financial collapse is complex and there are several versions of the story. In his book “My life as a polar explorer“, Amundsen himself laid the blame mainly on his brother Leon and Haakon Hammer. According to Roald, Hammer had abused his power of attorney and Roald’s trust by entering into agreements that could not be realized and that consequently led to large financial losses.The dispute with Leon, according to Roald, was caused by Leon’s desire to sell Uranienborg to cover Roald’s debts to him. Roald said that he felt pressured to file for bankruptcy in order to gain access to the accounts that Leon had kept for him for all those years.

The news of Amundsen’s bankruptcy created headlines in both Norwegian and foreign newspapers, and mail poured into Amundsen’s home from all over the world. Formal letters from lawyers, encouraging words from friends and support from complete strangers. A school class in Australia who had read about the bankruptcy wanted to comfort Amundsen and sent a three-page letter that ends with “Cheer up, and very good luck”.

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The first page of the letter Amundsen received from the class at Mandurma Public School, New South Wales, Australia. The letter is now in the National Library of Norway.

When Roald Amundsen filed for bankruptcy, he attached several values to his assets. Both of the houses at Svartskog, Uranienborg and Rødsten, as well as the polar ship Maud, were included in the bankruptcy estate. But the statement was complicated. The ownership of the properties at Svartskog was unclear and Maud was still frozen in the ice.

Things were looking bleak for Amundsen when he went to America later in 1924 to conduct a major lecture tour. In October, Amundsen was depressed in a hotel room in New York. “As I sat there in my room at the Waldorf Astoria, it seemed to me that all channels were now closed to me, and that my career as a polar explorer had ended in a disgraceful way.” 📜

But just then came the turning point: “As I sat like this pondering in my room, the phone rang. I picked it up, and a male voice asked if I was present, adding, ‘I met you many years ago in France during the war.'” 📜 The voice at the other end belonged to the American Lincoln Ellsworth, who together with his wealthy father would become central to the rebuilding of Amundsen’s reputation and finances.

Lincoln Ellsworth and Amundsen. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Despite continued adversity, things began to ease for Amundsen in 1925. Together with Ellsworth he planned a new expedition, to reach the North Pole with the two flying boats N 24 and N 25. Even though it almost ended fatally and they never reached the pole, the expedition generated new excitement. This new-found enthusiasm was far from dampened that autumn when the polar ship Maud sold at auction in Seattle to the Hudson Bay Company for $40,000.

Members of the expedition in 1925 receive tributes in Oslo. From left: Karl Feucht, Oskar Omdal, Hjalrma Riiser-Larsen, Leif Dietrichson, and Amundsen. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

In 1926, the houses at Svartskog – Uranienborg and Rødsten – were sold from Amundsen’s bankruptcy estate to Herman Gade and “Don Pedro” Christophersen. They then granted right of use to Roald Amundsen so that he and his other brother, Gustav, could live there.

In the same year, Roald Amundsen completed his voyage across the Arctic Ocean and finally fulfilled his expensive desire to reach the North Pole.

Related resources

Roald Amundsen born July 16
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
Starting university
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
Ship’s Officer’s exam
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
Polar bears as draft animals
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
Maud expedition
Nita and Camilla move in
Uranienborg for sale
Amundsen goes bankrupt
1924 Bankruptcy
To 88 degrees north
Norge expedition
Lecture tour in Japan
Latham flight
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
Betty’s house burns down
A chest full of photographs is discovered
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital