People live only 500 miles from the North Pole, so why didn’t anyone reach it until 1908? Well, it turns out there are many reasons, and a number of innovative solutions to the problems, including freezing a huge ship in the ice and letting the currents pull you across the arctic over a couple of years. In that particular case most of the crew survived, but many were less lucky.
In 1897 Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée had the truly original idea of piloting a hot air balloon across the arctic – an idea that’s so crazy that it just might be a work of genius. After every expert consulted had told him that he was an idiot he nevertheless managed to capture public excitement enough to raise the money to fund the trip. Would he manage to get his crew all the way to the North Pole and back alive?
This podcast over at Stuff You Missed In History Class goes into the details of the trip. I won’t spoil what happened, but I probably don’t need to.