25 Epic Expeditions And The Explorers That Made Them

Posted by , Updated on August 16, 2014

Although today there are very few places on Earth above sea level that aren’t explored (it has been said that we know more about the moon than we do the bottom of the ocean), there are still a few places like Papua New Guinea that have been notoriously impossible to map and settle. Of course, you’ll probably notice that the history of exploration is more or less the history of western civilization. It’s not that people don’t live in Papua New Guinea or know anything about its geography and terrain, it’s just that those people aren’t really connected to the rest of the world. So, whether you call it colonialism or discovery, here are the stories behind 25 epic expeditions and the explorers that made them.

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25

Discovery of Greenland (Erik the Red)

Discovery of Greenland (Erik the Red)

Born Erik Thorvaldsson, he was credited for establishing the first Norse settlement in Greenland after he was exiled on charges of manslaughter in Norway around the year 982. Called ‘Erik the Red’ for his flaming red hair, he ventured into an expedition with 25 ships, where 14 made the journey while the rest turned back or were lost at sea. The settlement grew with 5000 inhabitants, especially along Eriksfjord and neighboring fjords as immigrants came in from over-populated Iceland.

24

Discovery of Newfoundland, Canada (Leif Erikson)

Discovery of Newfoundland, Canada (Leif Erikson)

The son of Erik the Red, a Viking explorer, he also became a famous explorer just like his father when he embarked on his own expeditions towards North America. Considered the “first European to venture into North America,” he arrived at the place which he called Vinland in the 11th century. Archaeological remains substantiated this claim as they found some remains of Vikings in what is known as Newfoundland, Canada.

23

First Solo Circumnavigation of the World (Joshua Slocum)

First Solo Circumnavigation of the World (Joshua Slocum)

The first man who single-handedly traveled around the world, Joshua Slocum was a Nova Scotian-born naturalized American seaman and adventurer who wrote the book “Sailing Alone Around the World,” chronicling his journey. He started on April 24, 1895 on his self-built gaff-rigged oyster boat named ‘Spray’ from Fairhaven, Massachusetts and returned to Newport, Rhode Island three years later on June 27, 1898, circumnavigating the world at a distance of more than 48,000 miles.

22

The First Men to Conquer Mt. Everest (Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay)

The First Men to Conquer Mt. Everest (Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay)

Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay,a Nepali Sherpa from Darjeeling, India, were part of the ninth British expedition to conquer Mt. Everest led by John Hunt. They reached the summit on May 29, 1953, 11:30 AM local time via the South Col Route. Though they both acknowledged it as a team effort, Tenzing later revealed that it was Hillary who had put his foot first on the summit where they took photographs and buried a few sweets and a small cross before descending. Hunt and Hillary were knighted by Queen Elizabeth in the Order of the British Empire while Tenzing was given the George Medal by UK. They were both nationally recognized inNepal and are honored annually with ceremonies in schools and offices to celebrate their feat.

21

First Expedition to South Pole (Roald Amundsen)

First Expedition to South Pole (Roald Amundsen)

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a famous Norwegian explorer who was recognized as the first man to reach the South Pole in December 1911 and the first expedition leader to reach the North Pole in 1928. One of the key leaders in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Expeditions, he initially decided to go for Antarctica due to some funding problems and news that other explorers had already conquered the North Pole. Using the ship “Fram,” he and his men left Oslo, Norway on June 3, 1910 for the south. 16 years later, however, Amundsen and 15 of his crew made the first crossing of the Arctic using an airship and landing in Alaska two days later. Since the three previous claims to have arrived at the North Pole were all disputed, Amundsen would be the first man to cross the North Pole by air.


20

The Search for the Nile’s Source in Africa (David Livingstone)

The Search for the Nile’s Source in Africa (David Livingstone)

David Livingstone, a Scottish medical missionary, had become famous for his exploits and has gained mythical status mainly due to his geographical exploration of Africa, his disappearance, and death. One of the first Westerners to make a transcontinental journey across Africa from 1854 to 1856, he returned to Zanzibar in January 1866 to seek out the source of the Nile. Though he was wrong about the Nile, he discovered numerous geographical features including the Victoria Falls, Lake Ngawi, lake Bangwelu, and Lake Malawi.

19

Discovery of China (Marco Polo)

Discovery of China (Marco Polo)

An Italian merchant traveler, he was widely recognized as the first European to visit China and other far eastern territories from 1275 to 1295. From a family of mercantile traders, he apparently met Kublai Khan between the years 1271 and 1275 and spent 17 years in his palace. His pioneering journey inspired other explorers like Christopher Columbus to embark on the same and he had also influenced European cartography leading to the creation of numerous maps.

18

The 8,000 Mile Exploration of the West (Meriwether Lewis and William Clark Sacagawea)

The 8,000 Mile Exploration of the West (Meriwether Lewis and William Clark Sacagawea)

The “Corps of Discovery Expedition” from May 1804 to September 1806 was considered the 2nd transcontinental expedition undertaken by the Europeans in the Pacific Coast after Alexander Mackenzie’s crossing in 1803. Lewis and Clark relied on their navigation skills during the westward exploration where they learned to cook edible plants and make leather clothes out of moccasins. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, they embarked on the expedition with a select group of US Army volunteers to primarily explore and map the newly-acquired territories, find alternate routes across the Western half of the continent, and secure it from Britain and other powers who might tried to seize it.

17

1831 HMS Beagle Explorations (Charles Darwin)

1831 HMS Beagle Explorations (Charles Darwin)

The famed naturalist was also an explorer as he spent a significant amount of time charting the coastlines of South America. During the voyages he would investigate geology and natural history and send specimens and copies of his journal to his family every now and then. These entries became the basis for his “evolutionary theory”.

16

The First Circumnavigation of the Earth (Ferdinand Magellan)

The First Circumnavigation of the Earth (Ferdinand Magellan)

A Portuguese-born explorer, who served King Charles I of Spain after Portugal refused to fund his expeditions, he led the first voyage around the world from August 10, 1519 to 1522 in a westward route in search of the famed “Spice Islands.” He sailed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, which he called as “peaceful sea,” with 5 ships and a crew of 270 men from several nations. Though he himself did not complete the entire voyage as he was killed by Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan in Cebu, Philippines on April 17, 1521, he was still credited for the expedition. Out of the 5 ships and 270 crew members, only one surviving ship, ‘Victoria,’ returned to Spain with 18 people on board.

15

The First Landing on the Moon (Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin)

The First Landing on the Moon (Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin)

Broadcast on live TV to be watched by the world, Apollo 11 with its 3 crew members was the first space flight that landed humans on the moon on July 20, 1969. Armstrong’s first step to the lunar space became a celebrated event with his now famous phrase, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

14

Discovery of the Northeast Coast of America (John Cabot)

Discovery of the Northeast Coast of America (John Cabot)

An Italian-born explorer, John Cabot was commissioned by Henry VI of England from 1480 to 1497 to find alternative western route to Asia. While on the course of his expeditions, he was able to discover some parts of the northeast coast of America. Because of his feat, he was later given funds by the British to go on another expedition, this time to explore the Atlantic.

13

First Man to Travel into Space (Yuri Gagarin)

First Man to Travel into Space (Yuri Gagarin)

During the first part of the Space Race, Russia could have was probably slightly ahead of the United States. Eight years before Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, had already been able to circumnavigate the earth making him the “first man to travel into space.” His flight, however, lasted less than 2 hours.

12

Discovery of the Caribbean (Christopher Columbus)

Discovery of the Caribbean (Christopher Columbus)

Owing to the popularity of the exploits of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, a Genoese colonizer and navigator also embarked on expeditions for 13 years funded by the Spanish monarchy in exchange for new territories, spices, and conversion of people to Christianity. This led him to discover North, South and Central America including the islands in the West Indies with his ships the Pinta, Santa Maria and Niata using the direct route to the east and west. Due to miscalculations, however, their ships landed in the Bahamas and Cuba in 1492. His discoveries established the links between the Native Americans and the Europeans, which paved the way for its colonization. Columbus will always be honored for discovering the “New World” and for debunking the myth that the world is flat.

11

First Woman to Fly a Plane (Louise Arner Boyd)

First Woman to Fly a Plane (Louise Arner Boyd)

While the Wright Brothers were immortalized for building the first airplane, Louise Arner Boyd became the ‘first woman to ever fly a plane over the North Pole’ in 1955. Known for her moniker, the “Ice Woman,” Boyd was lauded for her research and adventures in Greenland, where her studies of the fjords and glaciers led to the discovery of a chain of sea mounts in the Arctic Ocean.

10

Discovery of India (Vasco da Gama)

Discovery of India (Vasco da Gama)

The expeditions of this Portuguese explorer from 1460 to 1524 led to the discovery of a trade route to India as he and his crew traversed the Cape of Good Hope and ended up on the East Coast of Africa. This route laid the foundations for future exploration, making Vasco da Gama one of the greatest heroes of the European age of discovery.

9

Discovery of the North Pacific (Abel Tasman)

Discovery of the North Pacific (Abel Tasman)

From 1603 to 1659, Abel Tasman embarked on explorations of the North Pacific with the primary aim of mapping beaches and coastlines in the region. Along the way he was able to explore New Zealand, Australia and the Van Diemans Land or present-day Tasmania.

8

Discovery of the Hudson Bay (Henry Hudson)

Discovery of the Hudson Bay (Henry Hudson)

During one of his numerous expeditions from 1550 to 1611, Hudson, an English navigator, discovered Hudson Bay as he and his crews were looking for the Northwest Passage. The Northwest Passage would become the main route to the east by traversing the Arctic Circle.

7

Explorations of Australia, New Zealand and North America (James Cook)

Explorations of Australia, New Zealand and North America (James Cook)

There were no other explorers before him who had sailed further south which led James Cook to discover and map out Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and North America during the mid 1700s. It also led to the creation of the North-West trade route which served as a guide to other future explorers. He was killed on his third expedition in 1779 to the islands of Hawaii.

6

Discovery of East Africa (Sir Richard Burton)

Discovery of East Africa (Sir Richard Burton)

If not for Sir Richard Burton, the world may not have known the classics “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” or “Alibaba and his Forty Thieves.” The son of a British army officer, he served as the captain in the Indian army for seven years before embarking on expeditions to the Americas, Asia and Africa from 1821 to 1890, which led him to Saudi Arabia and the Lake Tanganyika in Africa. He was also credited for translating the famous Arabian folktales “One Thousand and One Nights” and for publishing the “Kama Sutra” in English.

5

Discovery of America (Amerigo Vespucci)

Discovery of America (Amerigo Vespucci)

Though Christopher Columbus was credited for discovering the New World, the honor of its name is given to Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator whose expeditions were funded by the Portuguese crown. He first landed on what is known today as Brazil and met the natives of South America in 1502. Believing at first that the unknown territory was India, he called the natives “Indians,” a name that stuck to this day.

4

Discovery of Panama (Vasco Núñez de Balboa)

Discovery of Panama (Vasco Núñez de Balboa)

A Spanish conquistador, governor and explorer, he became famous for being the first European in 1513 to cross the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean, which was known at that time as the South Sea. During his travels to the New World in 1500, he came across the island of Hispaniola and built the settlement of Santa Maria la Antigua del Darién, or present-day Panama in 1510, which became the first permanent European settlement on the mainland of America.

3

First Man to Dive into the Sea (William Beebe)

First Man to Dive into the Sea (William Beebe)

Due to his fascination with the natural world, Beebe, an American naturalist and explorer conducted numerous expeditions for the New York Zoological Society. He became famous for his deep dives using the bathysphere off the coast of Bermuda. The apparatus was connected to the surface with rubber tube cables and supported him as he dove below 3,028 meters while setting successive world records for the deepest dives made by a human.

2

Modern Discovery of Machu Picchu (Hiram Bingham)

Modern Discovery of Machu Picchu (Hiram Bingham)

An American academic, explorer, treasure hunter, and later a senator in the United States, he was credited for making the Quechua citadel of Machu Picchu publicly known in 1911. With the aid of local farmers, he became excited about the prospect of unexplored Inca cities and returned to the Andes in an expedition along with the Yale Peruvian Expedition on July 24, 1911,which made Machu Picchu one of the major tourist attractions in South America.

1

Discovery of the Manila Galleon Trade (Andrés de Urdaneta)

Discovery of the Manila Galleon Trade (Andrés de Urdaneta)

One of the few survivors of the Loaisa Expedition to reach the Spice Islands in 1526, he achieved the “second” circumnavigation of the globe after Ferdinand Magellan and his crew. A Spanish explorer and Augustinian friar, de Urdaneta plotted the route across the Pacific via the Philippines to Acapulco in what was popularly known as the Manila Galleon.

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