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Walter Wellman (1858-1934) was an American journalist and explorer who attempted unsuccessfully both to reach the North Pole and to cross the Atlantic Ocean by powered airship. Born in Ohio, Wellman founded a weekly newspaper in Sutton, Nebraska, when he was 14, and later founded The Cincinnati Evening Post in 1879. For many years, he was the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Herald. He wrote of his many aerial and exploring adventures for the newspapers, including his 1891 claim that he had identified the exact spot where Christopher Columbus landed in San Salvador. Walter Wellman made his first attempt to reach the North Pole by land in 1894, leaving from base camp at Virgo Harbor, Danes Island. In 1898, Wellman headed north to Franz Joseph Land to search for the missing Swedish balloonist Salomon August Andrée and crew who had disappeared the year before in an attempt on the pole. In the spring of 1899, Wellman tried again to sled to the pole; again he failed. After these two sledding expeditions, Wellman decided that the best approach to the North Pole was by air. By 1906, he had raised the necessary funds to construct an airship, airship hangar, and base camp at Virgo Harbor. Unfortunately, his airship expeditions in search of the geographic North Pole were also unsuccessful; his first airship flight in 1907 only covered twenty miles, while his second attempt in 1909 covered only forty miles. During this latter (and final) attempt, Walter's brother Arthur Wellman managed the expedition's base camp on Dane's Island. After learning that Robert Peary and Frederick Cook both claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1909, Walter Wellman abandoned his own efforts. In 1910, Wellman tried for his last aviation milestone, attempting a transatlantic crossing in his airship America. He was not successful.



Processing Information

Most of the lantern slides were originally housed in a black metal medicine chest, labeled: "The Wellman Polar Expedition 1906 - trademark 'Tabloid' Brand Medicine Chest." The archivist suspects this is the same medicine chest that appears in one of the photographs and was taken on the 1906-1909 expedition, fullfilling its original duty. Possibly Arthur Wellman used the chest as well at his lectures as an artifact.




Jean Wellman Thickens Cooper, Gift, 2003


1.12 Cubic feet (1 legal size document box, 1 flat oversize box, 4 microfilm boxes)


This collection consists of material relating to Walter Wellman's polar explorations (1894-1909) and the role his brother, Arthur Wellman, played in managing the base camp on Dane's Island during the 1909 attempt to reach the North Pole by air.


No restrictions on access.


Collection descriptions

Archival materials





Arrangement note

This collection was arranged by the archivist into 3 series: Series 1: Correspondence Series 2: Miscellaneous Series 3: Photographs & Lantern Slides

Scope and Contents

This donation consists of material relating to Walter Wellman's polar explorations (1894-1909) and the role his brother, Arthur Wellman, played in managing the base camp on Dane's Island during the 1909 attempt to reach the North Pole by air. The following material is included: correspondence between Walter and Arthur Wellman and their respective immediate families, as well as correspondence between the Wellmans and Andrew Aagaard; an 1889 financial ledger sheet kept by Aagaard; newspaper articles about the Wellmans' adventures; airship fabric; black and white photographs of Wellman, the airship, crew members, and the base camp, including quarters and the airship hangar; glass plate photographs of the same scenes, which were evidently used by Arthur Wellman for his lectures; two copies of a poster announcing Arthur Wellman's lecture entitled, "Spitzbergen;" seven promotional postcards; and Arthur Wellman's notebook, which contains a Last Will and Testament, notes on the condition of the ship, and diary entries from the 1909 polar attempt. There are also seven black and while photographs of Walter Wellman's transatlantic attempt in the airship America. The last item in the collection is a set of five CDs produced by Jean and Steve Cooper, which contain scans of the entire collection.







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Wellman, Arthur

Wellman, Walter, 1858-1934.

Topics Aeronautics
Wellman-Vaniman America


Walter and Arthur Wellman Collection, Acc. 2004-0007, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Archival Repository

National Air and Space Museum Archives

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