Frozen in Time: The Detroit Arctic Expedition!

Posted by on September 7, 2010

From the modern viewpoint of today, the 1920’s are ancient history, written off and neatly pidgeonholed into a time between the wars and populated by the Mafia, the Great Depression and the Jazz Age.

Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth.  It was a time of growth, of learning, of dismissing the last of the previous eras.  It was also a time for adventure!  With aviation still in its infancy, many of us were gripped into learning more about the far lands profiled in our National Geographics.

One of these lands was the arctic reaches, the North Pole.  Still a wild creature, many adventurers still strode north on foot, by car and yes, the new aeroplane.  One of these men was George Hubert Wilkins.


World War I veteran in the AIF, but probably best known for his arctic exploits, Wilkins is one of those many adventurers that have been lost in the haze of time, his experiences and tales of exploration all but regulated to dusty library books and occasional web sites.  Yet his artic experiences and many trips to the frozen lands paved the way for later explorations in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  One of his experiences I stumbled across today was the: Detroit Arctic Expedition!

Doing some research today on the expedition, I found a great title on Google Books:  Mirrors of the Year.  Inside, I found that much of the money raised for the trip actually came from kids and and organizations from Detroit such as the Detroit Aviation Society and the North American Newspaper Alliance.

However, this expedition was not to have a typical Hollywood ending.  Death and accidents were a continual risk as men began their trek to the north.  Palmer Hutchinson, a reporter working on the story of the expedition, was unfortunately killed by one of the expedition’s airplanes, while other notable incidents included aircraft damage and more.


However, the expedition still came across as a success and helped to cement Wilkin’s reputation as arctic explorer and navigator.  I’ve assembled some great links below to give you both information about him and details on this expedition.  There’s some great photos and books, so take a few moments to find out about this adventure!


(Another expedition) Wilkins-Ellsworth Trans-Arctic Submarine Expedition

Sir George Hubert Wilkins (Biography)

Alaska’s Digital Archives (Search via keyword=”Detroit Arctic Expedition”)

Source List (Expeditions by Wilkins)

The Papers of Sir George Hubert Wilkins via Byrd Polar Research Center, OSU

Mercy Pilot

Fifty Years Below Zero

*Flying The Arctic* (Excellent Resource!)

Detroit News: Detroit’s Expedition to the Arctic!


Australian War Memorial, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

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