Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) was a Norwegian polar explorer who was the first person to fly over the North Pole in a dirigible (May 11-13, 1926) and was the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen and his small expedition reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911, traveling by dog sled. Amundsen was also the first person to sail around the world through the Northeast and Northwest passages, from the Atlantic to the Pacific (in 1905). He was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. Amundsen died in a plane crash attempting to rescue his friend, the Italian explorer Umberto Nobile who was lost in an airship.
John Cabot (1450-1499) was an Italian-born English explorer and navigator. In Italy, he is known as Giovanni Caboto (which is his original name).
See John Cabot.
Antonie Laumet de La Mothe de Cadillac ( March 5, 1658 - Oct. 15, 1730) was a French explorer, soldier, and leader. Cadillac founded the city of Detroit in 1701 and was the governor of the Louisiana Territory from 1710 to 1716 or 1717.
Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) was a French explorer who led three expeditions to Canada, in 1534, 1535, and 1541. He was looking for a route to the Pacific through North America (a Northwest Passage) but did not find one. Cartier paved the way for French exploration of North America.
Cartier sailed inland, going 1,000 miles up the St. Lawrence River. He also tried to start a settlement in Quebec (in 1541), but it was abandoned after a terribly cold winter. Cartier named Canada; “Kanata” means village or settlement in the Huron-Iroquois language. Cartier was given directions by Huron-Iroquois Indians for the route to “kanata,” a village near what is now Quebec, but Cartier later named the entire region Canada.
Samuel de Champlain (1567?-1635) was a French explorer and navigator who mapped much of northeastern North America and started a settlement in Quebec. Champlain also discovered the lake later named for him (1609) and was important in establishing and administering the French colonies in the New World.
Pierre François-Xavier de Charlevoix (Oct. 29, 1682 - Feb. 1, 1761) was a French Jesuit priest, explorer, and writer. His writings are some of the earliest written accounts of North America.
James Cook (October 27, 1728- February 14, 1779) was a British explorer and astronomer who went on many expeditions to the Pacific Ocean, Antarctic, Arctic, and around the world.
Cook’s first journey was from 1768 to 1771, when he sailed to Tahiti in order to observe Venus as it passed between the Earth and the Sun (in order to try to determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun). During this expedition, he also mapped New Zealand and eastern Australia.
Cook’s second expedition (1772-1775) took him to Antarctica and to Easter Island.
Cook’s last expedition (1776-1779) was a search for a Northwest Passage across North America to Asia. Cook was killed by a mob on Feb. 14, 1779, on the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). At the time, he was trying to take the local chief hostage to get the natives to return a sailboat they had stolen.
Cook was the first ship’s captain to stop the disease scurvy (now known to be caused by a lack of vitamin C) among sailors by providing them with fresh fruits. Before this, scurvy had killed or incapacitated many sailors on long trips.
Gaspar Corte Real (1450?-1501?) was a Portuguese explorer who sailed to Greenland in 1500, and perhaps also reached the coast of North America (Newfoundland). Gaspar was lost at sea about 1501, and his brother Manuel died trying to find him.
Juan de Fuca (15??-1601?) was a Greek navigator who sailed for Spain under a Spanish name; his original name was Apostolos Valerianos. De Fuca sailed up the western coast of North America from Mexico to Vancouver Island in 1592, looking for a passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. He was perhaps the first European to see this area. He sailed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca (which was named for him in 1725) and believed it to be the beginning of a route to the Atlantic Ocean (it is not). This strait connects the Pacific Ocean to the Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait, and is located between the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, USA, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
After sailing back to Acapulco, Mexico, de Fuca was not rewarded by Spain for his journey, and his discovery of the strait was not entirely believed until Captain Vancouver retraced de Fuca’s route 200 years later.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687) was a French explorer. He was sent by King Louis XIV (14) to travel south from Canada and sail down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. He was the first European to travel the length of the Mississippi River (1682). His mission was to explore and establish fur-trade routes along the river. La Salle named the entire Mississippi basin Louisiana, in honor of the King, and claimed it for France on April 9, 1682. He also explored Lake Michigan (1679), Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. He tried to start a settlement in the southern Mississippi River Valley, but the venture ended in disaster.
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (1685-1749) was a Canadian soldier and explorer who traveled farther west than any previous European explorer had; he traveled to Lake Winnipeg and then southwest, almost reaching the Missouri River. He was searching for a route across Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. His father was the sieur de Varennes, the governor of Trois Rivières, Quebec, Canada.
Sir Francis Drake (1545-1596) was a British explorer, slave-trader, privateer (a pirate working for a government) in the service of England, mayor of Plymouth, England, and naval officer (he was an Admiral). Drake led the second expedition to sail around the world in a voyage lasting from 1577 to 1580 (Magellan led the first voyage around the world).
Leif Ericsson (also spelled Eriksson) the Lucky (980?-1020?) was a Viking (Norse) explorer who was possibly the first European to sail to North America. Leif sailed north from the southern tip of Greenland, then went south along the coast of Baffin Island down to Labrador, and then landed in what is now called Newfoundland (which he called Vinland). Ericsson sailed around the year 1000.
Ericsson was born in Iceland and was one of the sons of the explorer Eric the Red.
Ericsson was probably preceded to Vinland by the Icelandic explorer Bjarni Herjulfsson, who spotted the coast of North America in 985 or 986 when blown off course from Iceland to Greenland (but he did not go ashore). Hearing of Herjulfsson’s discovery, Ericsson sailed for North America in the year 1000 with a crew of 35. He landed in what is probably southern Baffin Island (which he called Helluland, meaning the “land of the flat stone”). He then went on the what is now Labrador (which he called Markland, meaning “forest land”). In 1001 they reached Vinland (perhaps the southern tip of Newfoundland), where remains of an ancient Norse settlement have been found). Ericsson and his crew returned to Green land in the spring of 1002.
Ericsson later inherited his father’s position as leader of the Norse colony in Greenland.
Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) was an English explorer and Admiral who proved the existence of a Northwest Passage (a water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through Canada). In 1819 to 1822, Franklin surveyed part of the northwestern Canadian coast east of the Coppermine River. On a second expedition, from 1825 to 1827, Franklin explored the North American coast from the mouth of the Mackenzie River, in northwestern Canada, westward to Point Beechey (Alaska, USA).
In 1845, Franklin sailed from England with an expedition of 128 men to Canada in search of Northwest Passage. The ship became trapped in ice, and the desperate, freezing and starving survivors resorted to cannibalism. A small contingent of the expedition (without Franklin) may have reached Simpson Strait, the final part of the Northwest Passage. Scottish explorer John Rae determined that Franklin and his expedition had died of starvation and exposure in the Arctic; Eskimos at Pelly Bay told Rae of Franklin’s fate. Lead poisoning from poorly-canned food may have also hastened their death.
Simon Fraser (1776-1862) was a fur trader and explorer. Fraser, his mother, and his siblings, British loyalists, emigrated from America to Canada after the American Revolution (in 1784). In 1792, Fraser began working for the North West Company of Montreal, and was soon sent to Lake Athabasca, Alberta. Fraser established Fort McLeod in 1805, Fort St. James and Fort Fraser in 1806, and Fort George in 1807. He explored the interior of British Columbia, trying to find a trade route to the Pacific Ocean for the North West Company. He followed what he thought was the Columbia River to its mouth at Musqueam, but it was not the Columbia, it was another unknown river. This river was later called the Fraser River (named by David Thompson).
Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?-1594) was an English privateer (a pirate licensed by the British government), navigator, explorer, and naval officer. After years of sailing to northwestern Africa, and then looting French ships in the English Channel, Frobisher sailed to northeastern North America to search for a Northwest Passage (a sea route across northern Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, making the trip to Asia easier).
Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583) was an English nobleman, Army officer, member of Parliament, and explorer.
Early in his career, Gilbert started English settlements in Ireland (to try to stop the Irish rebellion) and, much later, sailed to North America in search of a Northwest Passage (a sea route to Asia through North America). He founded an English settlement in Newfoundland.
Henry Hudson (1565-1611) was an English explorer and navigator who explored parts of the Arctic Ocean and northeastern North America. The Hudson River, Hudson Strait, and Hudson Bay are named for Hudson.
Louis Joliet (1645-1700) was a Canadian explorer (born in Québec City) who explored the Canadian wilderness, including the Great Lakes area. He and Father Jacques Marquette found the Mississippi River in 1673; they were the first Caucasians to see the Mississippi River. Together, they travelled along Lake Michigan to Green Bay, canoed up the Fox River, and went downstream on the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi River. They travelled almost to the mouth of the Arkansas, and then stopped because they were warned of hostile Indians and Spanish explorers. They returned via the Illinois River, then the Chicago River to Lake Michigan. Joliet’s journal and his maps were lost when his canoe overturned on the rapids of the Montreal River. Marquette’s diary is all that remains of their journey. Joliet expanded fur trade westward, did extensive mapping, and established a fort on Anticosti Island.
Henry Kelsey (1667-1724) was a British explorer of inland Canada. Also known as Boy Kelsey, he became the first inland explorer of the Hudson’s Bay Company when he was seventeen years old (in 1684). On an expedition lasting from 1688 to 1690, Kelsey travelled to the Churchill River region. During his second expedition (1690 - 1692), Kelsey was the first European to see the Canadian prairies. Kelsey extended the trade routes of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trade to the Saskatchewan River by negotiating with various Indian tribes, including the Bree, the Gros Ventres. Kelsey spoke Cree (and perhaps Assiniboin); he respected and enjoyed Indian culture. After his Canadian expeditions, Kelsey returned to his native England and remained with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The company kept his journeys secret for many years since they were crucial to its trade. Kelsey’s journal was re-discovered in 1926.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1755?-1820) was a Scottish-born fur trader and explorer who charted the Mackenzie River in Canada and also traveled to the Pacific Ocean. Mackenzie emigrated to Canada in 1779. From 1788 to 1796 , he commanded the trading post Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Athabasca in Alberta. In 1789, Mackenzie went on an expedition to chart the 1,100-mile Mackenzie River, travelling from the Great Slave Lake to the mouth of the Mackenzie in the Arctic Ocean, using Peter Pond’s incorrect prediction that a river led from that lake to the Pacific Ocean. In 1793, on his second expedition, Mackenzie went from Ft. Chipewyan across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast in is now British Columbia, going via the Peace, Parsnip, McGregor and Fraser Rivers and overland. He was the first European to cross the North American continent north of Mexico (and he did this twice). Mackenzie later retired to his native Scotland. Mackenzie wrote “Voyage from Montreal on the River St. Lawrence, Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans, in the Years 1789 and 1793,” which was published in 1801.
Father Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) was a French Jesuit priest and explorer. He sailed to Quebec in 1666 and in 1671 started a Chippewa mission at Chequamegon Bay (at the western end of Lake Superior). Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette (and five others) found the Mississippi River in 1673; they were the first Caucasians to see the Mississippi River. They travelled along Lake Michigan to Green Bay, canoed up the Fox River, and went downstream on the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi River. They travelled almost to the mouth of the Arkansas, and then stopped because they were warned of hostile indians and Spanish explorers. They returned via the Illinois River, then the Chicago River to Lake Michigan. Marquette died of dysentery on his way to the Kaskaskian indians, to whom he had planned on preaching.
Jean Nicollet [also spelled Nicolet] (1598 - 1642) was a French explorer who was the first European to travel through the Great Lakes area, visiting Lake Michigan and what are now Wisconsin and Illinois, possibly reaching the Mississippi River. For many years, Nicollet lived among the Native Americans in what is now the Ontario, Canada area.
Pierre Esprit Radisson (1636-1710) was a French explorer and fur trader who settled in Canada in 1651. He and his brother-in-law, Médard Chouart de Groseillier, were the first European explorers to see what is now Minnesota. Radisson was instrumental in forming the Hudson’s Bay Company (an English fur trading monopoly which was founded in 1670). Radisson also trekked to Hudson Bay (in 1668 and 1670). Radisson wrote about his treks through the North American wilderness and his capture by the Iroquois (1651-1653).
John Rae (1813-1893) was a Scottish explorer, surveyor, and surgeon who explored the Canadian Arctic. Rae made three voyages, in 1848-1849, 1851, and 1853-1854, to find the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, who had disappeared together with his Arctic expedition. Rae surveyed and mapped over 1,400 miles (2255 km) of uncharted Canadian coastline. He also showed that King William Land was an island. On his third journey, Rae determined that Franklin and his expedition had died of starvation and exposure in the Arctic; Eskimos at Pelly Bay told Rae of Franklin’s fate. During his Arctic expeditions, the hearty Rae walked over 23,000 miles (37000 km).
Vilhjalmur Stefansson (November 3, 1879 - August 26, 1962) was a Canadian explorer (born of Icelandic parents) who explored the Canadian Arctic and lived among the Inuit (Eskimos) for many years.
David Thompson (1770-1857) was a Welsh explorer (born in London, England); Thompson’s family name was originally as Tomos. Thompson was also a mapmaker, surveyor, fur trader, and journal writer. . Thompson explored western North America, including what is now western Canada and the western USA. Thompson was the first European to explore the entire length of Columbia River. Thompson’s detailed maps of western North America were the first ones made, and were the basis of maps for years to come. Thompson began working as a clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1784. In 1796, Thompson explored Lake Athabasca. In 1797, Thompson joined and become a partner in the North West Company (a rival trapping company). In 1797-1798, Thompson went on an expedition down the Missouri River; he discovered Turtle Lake, one of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, in 1798. In 1807, Thompson crossed the Rocky Mountains and built the first trading post on the Columbia River. From 1818 to 1826, Thomson surveyed the border between Canada and the USA.
Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) was an English explorer and navigator who sailed to the northwest coast of North America. His two ships, “Discovery” and “Chatham,” reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca (near what is now the US-Canadian border) in May, 1792. He then sailed to Puget Sound (near what is now Seattle); Vancouver named Puget Sound (he named it for Lieutenant Peter Puget who was sailing under Captain Vancouver on the ship “Discovery”). Vancouver also named Mt. Rainier, Whidbey Island, and the Hood Canal. The expedition then sailed north, discovering what is now called Vancouver Island, and then sailing around it. Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver are named for him. Vancouver had previously served under Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages sailing around the world.
Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-1528) was an Italian navigator who, in 1524, explored the northeast coast of North America from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Maine while searching for a Northwest passage to Asia. Verrazzano sailed for King François-premier (Francis I) of France. Verrazzano’s brother, Girolamo da Verrazzano, was a mapmaker who accompanyed Giovanni on his voyage, and mapped the voyage.
Verrazzano left Madeira, Spain, on January 17, 1524, and landed at Cape Fear on March 1. He first sailed south, then returned and sailed north, to New York, anchoring the narrows that are now name for him. He sailed up to Maine and then on to New Foundland, Canada, and back to Europe (landing in Dieppe, France on July 8). Verrazzano thought that North America was a thin isthmus separating the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Verrazzano was killed and eaten by Carib Indians in 1528. The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, a suspension bridge that spans New York Harbor, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island (New York, USA), was named for Verrazzano.