Fridtjof Nansen, famous Arctic explorer, athlete, author, statesman
and humanist was born in the suburbs of Christiania (now Oslo).
His father, a well-to-do lawyer, was a religious person “with
a clear conception of personal duty and moral principle” .
Fridtjof's mother who herself was a keen skier, encouraged her
children to love nature, to get involved in sports and outdoor activities
. Young Nansen spent a lot of time outdoors. Sometimes he even stayed
with his brother in woods for several days. In winter they used
to go fishing and hunting. Moreover, Nansen became the winner of
the national cross-country skiing championship twelve times in a
row. This experience came handy later during his Arctic expeditions.
In 1880* he entered the University of Oslo. He decided to major
in zoology, which would give him an opportunity to spend more time
outdoors. Two years later he signed a contract with a trade ship
“Viking” which was sailing to the Arctic Ocean. At last
Nansen saw the ice-covered mountains of Greenland with his own eyes
and soon he came up with the idea of an expedition — the first
crossing of the Greenland inland ice.
* According to  it was in 1881.
Nansen decided to sail as close as possible to the desert east
coast of Greenland, then leave the ship on the edge of the ice fields
and advance to the west through ice caps and mountains. For the
long period of time Nansen could not find financing for his expedition.
But then he managed to impress a philanthropist from Copenhagen
who agreed to sponsor the trip.
In May 1888 Nansen and five members of his crew started the expedition.
They arrived at the ice fields and left the ship there but it turned
out that the ice had slid south for many miles. The participants
of the expedition had no choice but to walk North which took lots
of time and prevented them from reaching their destination before
the start of the Arctic winter. Mountains, glaciers and cold weather
complicated the trip; yet in 37 days they reached an Eskimo village
at the west coast. However it was the end of September, and navigational
season was over. Having to stay in the village for a winter, Nansen
devoted himself to learning how Eskimos lived. Based on his experience
and observations he created a classic methodology for Arctic skiing
and dog sledding. In May 1889 they returned to Norway and were welcomed
That same year he was appointed curator of Zootomical Institute
at the University of Oslo. He also wrote two books about his adventures:
“The First Crossing of Greenland“ ("Pa ski over
Gronland", 1890) and “Eskimo Life” ("Eskimoliv",
1891). Meanwhile he started planning another Arctic expedition hoping
to be the first person to reach the North Pole. Reading the reports
about an American vessel being caught in the ices and drifting for
more than a year, Nansen came to the conclusion that a specifically
designed ship could get to the pole drifting with polar ice. With
financial support of the Norwegian government he built a round-bottomed
ship called “Fram” (“Forward”) which was
designed to be able to stand the ice pressure.
Nansen and a crew of 12 people departed in the summer of 1893.
“Fram” managed to get as close to the pole as 450 miles
but then it got stuck in the ice. In March Nansen and one companion
proceeded to the pole on dog sleds. Despite the incredible difficulties
they were the first who got to the point of 86o 13,6’ Northern
latitude thus becoming the first humans to get this close to the
North Pole. The travelers had no idea of Fram’s whereabouts,
so they decided to winter in Franz Josef Land. In May 1896 they
met an English expedition and later in August were able to return
to “Fram”. Nansen described the history of the expedition
in a two-volume work named Farthest North (1897).
In 1908 thanks to the scientific observations made during the Fram
expedition Nansen was appointed head of a newly created oceanography
faculty in the University of Oslo. While in this position he helped
to establish International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
(ICES) and managed its laboratories in Oslo. He also took part in
several Arctic expeditions.
In 1905 Nansen participated in negotiations concerning the independence
of Norway from Sweden. Sweden strongly opposed the idea of breaking
off the union. Nansen visited London where he asserted rights of
Norwegians for independence. After the peaceful separation he became
Norway’s first ambassador in Great Britain (1906 to 1908).
Meanwhile he worked on a book called “In Northern Mists”
(“Nord I tackenheimen”, 1910-1911).
With the beginning of the WWI Nansen joined the state service again.
“For almost a year in 1917-1918, as the head of a Norwegian
delegation in Washington, D. C., Nansen negotiated an agreement
for a relaxation of the Allied blockade to permit shipments of essential
Meanwhile Norwegians strongly supported the idea of creating a
League of Nations and Nansen, who headed the Norwegian Union for
the League of Nations, became the first official representative
of Norway in it.
That very year Nansen was invited by Philip Noel-Baker to organize
the repatriating of 500,000 German and Austrian prisoners of war
from Russia. That was an extremely difficult task because of chaos
accompanying the Russian revolution and the decision of the Soviet
government not to recognize the League of Nations. However the international
respect towards Nansen along with his ingenuity allowed him to convince
Bolshevik leaders to bring the prisoners to the borders of Russia
and then he evacuated them from the Soviet ports using German ships
captured by British Army. Thanks to Nansen nearly 437 thousand prisoners
returned home by September 1921.
At the same time he was working on accommodating 1.5 million Russian
emigrants, who fled from the Bolsheviks. The majority of those people
did not have any identification documents and were moving from one
country to another, being settled in miserable camps where thousands
of them starved and died from typhoid. Nansen came up with an idea
of a special document for refugees which would be accepted worldwide.
Eventually 52 countries acknowledged those documents, which were
named “Nansen’s Passports”. Thanks to his efforts
most of the emigrants were able to get some kind of shelter.
During the famine in Soviet Russia (summer, 1921) Nansen, who was
appointed High Commissioner for Refugees by the League, appealed
to the governments with a request to provide help to the Soviets
while putting away all the political disagreements. The League of
Nations declined his appeal for credit but the USA, for example,
provided 20 million dollars for these purposes. Those funds saved
10 million lives. He also organized the process of resettling refugees
during the Greek-Turkish War of 1922: one million Greeks living
in Turkey moved to Greece, and 500,000 Turks living in Greece resettled
In recognition of his humanitarian work he was honored with the
1922 Nobel Prize for Peace. “Nobel prizes are given to very
different people, “— a Danish journalist wrote, —
“but it is the first time when it was given to someone who
achieved this kind of outstanding success in such a short period
of time”. Professor Fredrik Stang, the chairman of the Nobel
committee, mentioned his ability to “appeal to world opinion
with brotherly love as the driving and animating force” 
In his Nobel lecture  Nansen described
desperate conditions that were a result of the World War and spoke
of the League of Nations as a sole power having ability to prevent
future tragedies. “… it is because of blind fanaticism
for and against - especially against - that conflicts come to a
head and lead to heartrending struggles and destruction; whereas
discussion, understanding, and tolerance might have turned this
energy into valuable progress. … In my opinion, the only avenue
to salvation lies in cooperation between all nations on a basis
of honest endeavor. I believe that the only road to this goal lies
through the League of Nations.” — Nansen said during
his Nobel lecture. It probably did not come as a great surprise
that he gave away all the money received from the Nobel committee
to help refugees.
In 1925 the League of Nations appointed Nansen to organize the
settling of the Armenian refugees. He went to Armenia to investigate
the possibilities of organizing irrigation in Armenia which would
allow the creation of conditions for resettling Armenian refugees
from Turkey to Eastern Armenia. Nansen worked in close cooperation
with the Soviet committee for the improvement of the land, which
was situated in Yerevan. He reported the results of his trip to
the League of Nations. “At this time the only place where
it is possible to settle Armenian refugees is Soviet Armenia. Several
years ago devastation, poverty and famine were prevailed here, yet
now peace and order are established and the population even became
prosperous to some degree”. Although the League failed to
implement its plan in general, he still managed to resettle 10,000
people in Armenia and about 40,000 in Syria and Lebanon.
After returning to Norway he wrote a book full of sympathy and
respect for the Armenian people — “Armenia and the Near
East”, which since then has been published in Norwegian, English,
French, German, Russian and Armenian languages.
His trip to Armenia was also described in the book “Gjennern
Armenia” (“Across Armenia”), published in 1927.
Two years later he also referred to the trip of 1925 in another
book: “Gjennern Kaukasus til Volga” (“Through
Caucasus to Volga”). Nansen continued helping Armenians until
the end of his life. In 1928 he went to America with a series of
lectures to raise money for Armenians.
Fridtjof Nansen died in Oslo on May 13, 1930 and was buried on
May 17, 1930 — Norway’s Independence Day.