SAHF Inductees

Carl Ben Eielson
Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame

Inducted in 1984

 

Carl Ben Eielson was born July 20, 1897, in Hatton, N.D. to Norwegian immigrants. His interest in aviation started during his childhood and increased when he joined the U.S. Army Air Service in 1917 during World War I.

 

Eielson is best known for being the first person to fly a plane in Alaska and flew the fisrt air mail from Fairbanks to McGrath in 4 hours in 1924. In 1928, Eielson became the first pilot to fly nonstop over the top of the world in 1928 with Austrailian explorer Hubert Wilkins. The main purpose of the flight was to establish whether or not any island existed between Alaska and the North Pole. That flight took 22 hours and 20 minutes.

 

As a child, he was athletic and showed a great love of the outdoors. In high school, he proved himself an excellent debater and in his senior year, his debating team took state honors. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. Although he was an outstanding student, the glamour of air enticed him and he enlisted in the air service of the Army in 1917.

 

Following the war, he began working at Hatton. In 1919, he organized a local Aero Club. He began doing stunt flying and offering passenger flying in North Dakota and Minnesota. He entered school at UND again, then enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

 

He discovered Alaska when he took a position there as a school principal. He ordered an airplane and began organizing an aviation club. He also transported medical aid and supplied to isolated miners.

 

Eventually the government signed a contract with him to deliver mail. In the next few years his activities varied, from returning to school and returning again to Hatton. In 1925 he was contacted to be the pilot for Captain George Hubert Wilkins. From then on, Eielson was involved in several flying expeditions and established a reputation for himself as a daring and competent pilot.

 

In1928 he and Wilkins flew across the polar cap from Point Barrow on the northernmost tip of North America to Spitzbergen in the Arctic Ocean. They made national and international headlines for the first non-stop flight over the top of the world.

 

He died Nov. 9, 1929, when he tried to save six persons and a valuable cargo on a ship locked in ice off the Siberian coast. The plane crashed when Eielson returned the second time. The United States, Russian and Canadian governments sent out rescue parties. The wreckage and bodies were discovered Feb. 19, 1930. Eielson was 32 at the time of his death.

 

He was buried at Hatton. In Alaska, an air force base, a mountain near Mount McKinley and a visitor’s center in Denali National Park all bear his name. One of his early planes is permanently displayed at the Fairbanks airport.

 

In North Dakota, there is an Eielson Street at the Grand Forks Air Base, an elementary school named after him at the base, and a school named after him in Fargo.

 

One of his planes is being restored at Bonanzaville in Fargo, and in 1973 the Hatton Eielson Museum Association was begun. The Eielson home became a museum in 1981. About 3,000 people visited it this year.