This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Discovery: Scotch Freezes at -65º


May 3, 1952:  First Humans to Land at North Pole

Pilot William P. Benedict and Joseph Fletcher (pictured) as co-pilot flew their plane, a modified Douglas C-47 Skytrain, to the North Pole, becoming the first humans to land there and the first humans (together with scientist Albert P. Crary, who flew with them) to set foot on the exact geographical North Pole.  [Of note, there are sources that credit this achievement instead to a Soviet Union expedition that landed there on 23 April 1948]


Earlier, on March 19, 1952, his team landed with a C-47 aircraft, modified to have both wheels and skis, on a tabular iceberg in the Arctic Ocean and established a weather station there, which remained manned for 22 years before the iceberg broke up. The station was initially known just as “T-3”, but soon renamed “Fletcher’s Ice Island“.

Fletcher's Ice island

Fletcher’s Ice island

So…who was first to the Pole? Depends on who you ask.

The US explorer Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole on 21 April 1908 with two Inuit men, Ahwelah and Etukishook, but he was unable to produce convincing proof and his claim is not widely accepted.



The conquest of the North Pole was for many years credited to US Navy engineer Robert Peary, who claimed to have reached the Pole on 6 April 1909, accompanied by Matthew Henson and four Inuit men, However, Peary’s claim remains controversial.






The first claimed flight over the Pole was made on 9 May 1926 by US naval officer Richard E. Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett in a Fokker tri-motor aircraft. Although verified at the time by a committee of the National Geographic Society, this claim has since been undermined by the 1996 revelation that Byrd’s long-hidden diary’s solar sextant data consistently contradict his June 1926 report’s parallel data by over 100 mi (160 km).

According to E. Myles Standish of the California Institute of Technology, an experienced referee of scientific claims,, “Anyone who is acquainted with the facts and has any amount of logical reasoning cannot avoid the conclusion that neither Cook, nor Peary, nor Byrd reached the North Pole; and they all knew it.”

According to some, the first consistent, verified, and scientifically convincing attainment of the Pole was on 12 May 1926, by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his US sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth from the airship Norge. The flight started from Svalbard in Norway, and crossed the Arctic Ocean to Alaska



The Soviets discount Peary’s disputed claim, stating the first men to set foot at the North Pole were a Soviet party including geophysicists and other scientists and flight crew (24 people in total). The party flew on three planes from Kotelny Island to the North Pole and landed there on April 23, 1948. They established a temporary camp and for the next two days conducted scientific observations.

Setting aside Peary’s and all other claims, the first confirmed surface conquest of the North Pole was that of Ralph Plaisted, Walt Pederson, Gerry Pitzl and Jean Luc Bombardier, who traveled over the ice by snowmobile and arrived on April 19, 1968. The United States Air Force independently confirmed their position.

Plaisted_SkiDoo2 Ralph_s_plaisted

Plaisted to this day feels that his expedition of snowmobilers was the first to reach the North Pole by land. His accomplishment was unquestionably verified by an outside source. A private endeavor, the Plaisted Polar Expedition didn’t make any scientific breakthroughs. Well, Plaisted does take a bit of pleasure in recalling, “About the only scientific achievement was that we found scotch freezes at -65 degrees!


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