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The Austro-Hungarian coat of arms. The expedition was financed mainly by the contributions of noble families from Austria-Hungary.
Location of the Franz Josef Archipelago

The Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition was an expedition that ran from 1872-74 and discovered Franz-Josef Land. According to Julius von Payer, one of the leaders, the journey was to find the north-eastern passage. It actually explored the area northwest of Novaya Zemlya. According to the other leader, Karl Weyprecht, the north pole was a secondary target. The financing was an estimated total costs 175,000 florins from Austro-Hungarian nobles. The two main financial contributors were Count Johann Nepomuk Wilczek (1837 - 1922) and Hungarian Count Ödön Zichy (1811-1894)

The main ship was the Tegetthoff, named for the Austrian Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, under whom Weyprecht served. The ship was built by Teklenborg & Beurmann in Bremerhaven. It was a three-masted schooner of 220 tons, 38.34 m long, with a 100 hp (75 kW) steam engine. The crew came from all over Austria-Hungary, especially from Istria and Dalmatia.



The Tegetthoff with her crew of 24 left Tromsø in July 1872. At the end of August she got locked in pack-ice north of Novaya Zemlya and drifted to hitherto unknown polar regions. It was on this drift when the explorers discovered an archipelago which they named Franz-Josef Land after Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I.

In May 1874 boat captain Weyprecht decided to abandon the ice-locked ship and try to return by sledges and boats. On 14 August, 1874 the expedition reached the open sea and on 3 September finally set foot on Russian mainland.


The expedition's discoveries and experiences made a significant contribution to polar science, especially the discovery of the Northeast passage by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. They also gave an impetus to International Polar Years, meaning a shift from sports-like races of single expeditions to worldwide scientific cooperation in exploring the polar regions.

The expedition yielded various results in the fields of meteorology, astronomy, geodesy, magnetism, zoology, and sightings of aurora borealis. They were published by the Academy of Sciences in 1878. Besides, there are a book (The Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition 1872-74) and paintings by Payer - probably the only paintings of a polar expedition created by the explorer himself.

The expedition was selected as main motif for the Austrian Admiral Tegetthoff Ship and The Polar Expedition commemorative coin minted in June 8, 2005. The reverse side of the coin shows two explorers in Arctic gear with the frozen ship behind them.


  • Karl Weyprecht, Die Metamorphosen des Polareises. Österr.-Ung. Arktische Expedition 1872-1874 (The Metamorphosis of Polar Ice. The Austro-Hungarian Polar Expedition of 1872-1874)
  • Julius von Payer New Lands within the Arctic Circle (1876)
  • Andreas Pöschek: Geheimnis Nordpol. Die Österreichisch-Ungarische Nordpolexpedition 1872-1874. - Wien: 1999 (download as PDF)

Further reading

  • Christoph Ransmayr, The Terrors of Ice and Darkness.


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