Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
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Forging Ahead: SS Roosevelt Encounters the Polar Sea
May 1, 2008 - November 1, 2008
Just over a century ago, the steamship Roosevelt made two landmark Arctic voyages. Robert Peary’s North Pole expeditions of 1905-1906 and 1908-1909 relied completely on this "little black ship, solid, sturdy, compact, strong and resistant," as Peary described her. The ship steamed north through ice-choked channels and seas as far as it was possible to navigate. On the northeast shores of Ellesmere Island, the ship was deliberately frozen into the ice. From Cape Sheridan, expedition members made long sledge journeys over the frozen sea towards the North Pole.

During these voyages, SS Roosevelt and her crew confronted ice, fierce storms, damage to the ship, and equipment trouble. Yet the vessel, one of the first built specifically to push through ice, returned home safely. The Roosevelt is now recognized as one of the most successful Arctic vessels, combining strength and icebreaking capabilities.   


Pictured above: SS Erik at Provision Point, Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, Northwest Greenland, 1913. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Ice Squeeze</b> </p>     The<em> Roosevelt</em> is seen pinned in the ice pack. Two of her sails are set, to keep the vessel in position while Captain Bartlett searches for open water.  The rounded stern and egg-shaped hull allowed the ship to pop up onto the ice when squeezed between pans of ice.     <br> <br>   SS <em>Roosevelt</em> in ice pack, Donald B. MacMillan, Cape Sheridan, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan
<p><b>A Thousand Horsepower </b> </p>     The <em>Roosevelt</em> was a powerful steamship, burning coal to heat water in three boilers, which powered the steam-driven, thousand horsepower engine. In addition, she had a light three-masted schooner rig. The sails could be used to supplement the engine, save fuel, or help the ship maneuver in tight situations.   <br> <br>   SS <em>Roosevelt</em> in ice pack, Donald B. MacMillan, Arctic Ocean, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>An Able Captain</b> </p>     Robert A. Bartlett was master of the <em>Roosevelt</em> for both polar voyages. Dressed for company at the outset of a voyage, he poses at the ship’s massive wheel. His confident stance hints at his legendary abilities as an ice navigator. While working through the ice, the captain stationed himself aloft in the lookout’s “ice bucket,” with another man at the helm taking his direction.    <br> <br>  Capt. Bob Bartlett at the helm, Donald B. MacMillan, aboard SS <em>Roosevelt</em>, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Arctic Museum Collection.
<p><b>Fire</b> </p>     In this rare view of the ship's interior, “Chief” George Wardwell (seated) consults with another member of the engineering crew. As chief engineer, Wardwell faced a challenging job. His experience and good humor helped when the <em>Roosevelt's</em> boilers exploded and her woodwork caught fire, and when there was accidental damage to “his” steam equipment when the captain used dynamite to blast away ice.   <br> <br>   George Wardwell and crew member, photographer unknown, aboard SS <em>Roosevelt</em>, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Arctic Museum Collection.

<p><b>Water</b> </p>     Nudged against the foot of a glacier and tethered in, the <em>Roosevelt</em> takes water aboard. She did not need to carry barrels of water, because fresh water could be obtained from icebergs and glaciers along the route. This saved hold space, which was at a premium because of the extra bracing and strengthening that went into the ship’s construction.   <br> <br>   SS <em>Roosevelt</em> taking water aboard, photographer unknown, Greenland, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p>The <em>Erik</em>: Arctic Veteran</b> </p>     The <em>Roosevelt</em> had very little storage space, and relied on the <em>Erik</em>, a Scottish whaler built in 1865, as a supply ship to carry extra coal and provisions. Once in the north, the <em>Erik</em> re-supplied the <em>Roosevelt</em> and left caches for the homeward voyage. Note the huge numbers of crates on shore at Provision Point, near Etah, Northwest Greenland.  <br> <br>  Features of <em>Erik's</em> typical Arctic whaler design include a flat transom stern, broad hull, and substantial sail rig. The  <em>Roosevelt</em> departed from this time-tested design with innovations such as a sharp stern, egg-shaped hull, and lighter sail rig.   <br> <br>   SS <em>Erik</em> at Provision Point, Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, Northwest Greenland, 1913. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Winter Quarters</b> </p>     Once the <em>Roosevelt</em> had steamed as far north as she could, the vessel was deliberately frozen into the ice at Cape Sheridan, Ellesmere Island, in August 1905 and again in September 1908. Each time she stayed until the ice released her the following summer.   <br> <br>  Some years, the ice did not retreat enough to free vessels overwintering in the Arctic. But in 1906, fast moving ice threw the <em>Roosevelt</em> out of her berth before the vessel was ready to depart on her voyage south. Some men were still away from the ship, so the ship’s crew ran with the ice for about 200 miles before they found another harbor where they could wait for all members of the expedition to get aboard.    <br> <br>   SS <em>Roosevelt</em> in winter quarters, Donald B. MacMillan, Cape Sheridan, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Close to Shore</b> </p>     With a relatively shallow draft of 16 feet, the <em>Roosevelt</em> could navigate close to shore in order to seek refuge from fast-moving ice. In uncharted waters where shoals and rocks were common, a shallow draft was an advantage. Here, the ice has forced the vessel close to a mountainous shore, identified by Peary as Wrangel Bay in the Robeson Channel, the body of water separating Ellesmere Island and Greenland.   <br> <br>   SS <em>Roosevelt</em> against iceberg, Donald B. MacMillan, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Getting Through the Ice</b> </p>     Getting through the ice was a tedious process, when not outright dangerous. In this view, crew members are working alongside the ship. The vessel, with lines running to the ice, awaits her next opening to move ahead – an opportunity that was sometimes days in coming. There is, naturally, no photographic record of the most perilous passages when the ship was battering through the ice.      <br> <br>  SS <em>Roosevelt</em> at Cape Sheridan. Donald B. MacMillan, Cape Sheridan, 1908-1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Safe Harbor</b> </p>     Battle Harbour is a famous fishing station in southern Labrador. In 1909, it housed one of the northernmost telegraph stations. The <em>Roosevelt</em> remained at anchor there in September 1909 after Peary sent telegrams announcing his attainment of the Pole. The press crowded into Battle Harbour. In the loft of the salthouse, Peary held his first press conference after returning from the North Pole.    <br> <br>  SS <em>Roosevelt</em> upon her return from the Pole, Donald B. MacMillan, Battle Harbour, Labrador, 1909. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.