Biographical / Historical
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.