IV. Triumph and Tragedy

As American expeditions headed north to search for British commander John Franklin, Arctic exploration quickly became an American enterprise. [4-1] From 1850-1900, American explorers led more than a dozen expeditions on missions of discovery. Most celebrated among these was Elisha Kane who survived two winters in the Arctic before leading his crew to safety. Kane’s two-volume Arctic Explorations went through multiple editions and sold over 150,000 copies over the next decades. If it served as a source of inspiration for readers, it also operated as a guidebook for future explorers, who used it to emulate Kane’s persona and popular campaigns in the decades to come. By the 1880s, however, tragedy led Americans to reassess their interest in the Arctic. From 1879-1884, expeditions led by George Washington DeLong and Adolphus Greely resulted in the deaths of thirty-nine men, five times as many as had died on all previous voyages combined. [4-2] While these disasters diminished support for Arctic exploration among scientists and politicians, they proved beneficial to newspaper publishers who found that news about expedition catastrophes sold better than stories of accomplishment. [4-4] [4-6] [4-7] As a result, newspapers increasingly became financial backers of American exploration in the late nineteenth century. [5-3] [5-4]