1879: An Arctic Transportation Trailblazer is Born in Greenland

June 7, 1879

Knud Johan Victor Rasmussen, polar explorer and dogsled driver extraordinaire, was born in the town of Jakobshavn (now Ilulissat) in western Greenland. His father was a Danish missionary, and his mother was of both Danish and Inuit descent. As a child growing up in the often harsh Arctic region, Rasmussen early on learned such important skills as driving dogsleds. He later wrote that even the hardships of that traditional means of polar transportation turned out to be “pleasant routine” for him.

Rasmussen found his life’s calling only after his initial career as an actor and opera singer proved to be unsuccessful. Starting in 1902, he expanded the frontiers of human knowledge through his mastery of dogsleds. Rasmussen employed that mode of transportation when traveling across his native Greenland to examine the territory’s cultural, geographical, geological, and botanical features. On his first expedition alone, he covered 500 miles (804.7 kilometers) of Greenland’s ice cap.

Rasmussen’s expeditions eventually took him well beyond his native Greenland, culminating in the so-called Great Sled Journey across Canada, Alaska, and Siberia between 1921 and 1924. This endeavor has been recounted in the 2006 Canadian film The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. During that expedition, Rasmussen became the first person of European descent to cross the Northwest Passage via dogsled.

Rasmussen, who died in 1933 at the age of 54, also used that far-flung expedition to significantly bolster the case for one of history’s greatest milestones in human mobility: the migration of the ancestors of the Inuits and Native Americans from Asia to the Western Hemisphere.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Knud Rasmussen, please check out https://inuit.uqam.ca/en/person/rasmussen-knud

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