Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer

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Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer

Also Known As: "Asst. Surgeon Elisha Kent Kane (USN)"
Birthdate: (37)
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: February 16, 1857 (33-41)
Havana, Havana, Cuba
Place of Burial: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Judge John Kintzing Kane and Jane Duvall Kane
Husband of Margaret Fox, Spiritualist
Brother of Brevet Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Kane (USA); Elizabeth Shields and John Kintzing Kane, Jr.

Occupation: physician, naval officer, and explorer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer


Elisha Kent Kane (28 February 1820 – 16 February 1857) was a medical officer in the United States Navy during the first half of the 19th century. He was a member of two Arctic expeditions to rescue the explorer Sir John Franklin. He was present at the discovery of Sir John Franklin's first winter camp, but he did not find out what had happened to the fatal expedition.

Life and career

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kane was the son of John Kintzing Kane, a U.S. district judge, and Jane Duval Leiper. His brother was attorney, diplomat, abolitionist, and American Civil War cavalry general Thomas L. Kane. Kane graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1842. On 14 September 1843, he became Assistant Surgeon in the Navy. He served in the China Commercial Treaty mission under Caleb Cushing, in the Africa Squadron, and in the Marines during the Mexican-American War.

Kane was appointed senior medical officer of the Grinnell Arctic expedition of 1850-1851 under the command of Edwin de Haven, which searched unsuccessfully for the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin. It is worth noting that in this expedition, the crew discovered Sir John Franklin's first winter camp. Kane then organized and headed the Second Grinnell expedition which sailed from New York 31 May 1853, and wintered in Rensselaer Bay. Though suffering from scurvy, and at times near death, he resolutely pushed on and charted the coasts of Smith Sound and the Kane Basin, penetrating farther north than any other explorer had done up to that time. At Cape Constitution he discovered the ice-free Kennedy Channel, later followed by Isaac Israel Hayes, Charles Francis Hall, Augustus Greely, and Robert E. Peary in turn as they drove toward the North Pole.

Kane finally abandoned the icebound brig Advance 20 May 1855 and escaped the clutches of the frozen north by an 83-day march of indomitable courage to Upernavik. The party, carrying the invalids, lost only one man in the retreat to stand in the annals of Arctic exploration as the archetype of victory over defeat. Kane and his men were saved by a sailing ship. Kane returned to New York 11 October 1855 and the following year published his two-volume "Arctic Explorations."

After visiting England to fulfill his promise to deliver his report personally to Lady Franklin, he sailed to Havana, Cuba in a vain attempt to recover his health, after being advised to do so by his doctor. He died there on February 16, 1857. His body was brought to New Orleans, and carried by a funeral train to Philadelphia; the train was met at nearly every platform by a memorial delegation, and is said to have been the longest funeral train of the century excepting only Lincoln's.


Dr. Kane received medals from Congress, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Société de Géographie. The destroyer USS Kane (DD-235) was named for him, as was a later oceanographic research ship, the USNS Kane (T-AGS-27). Kane was a Mason, and a prominent Masonic lodge in New York City (Lodge No. 454) was renamed the Kane Lodge. The crater Kane on the Moon was also named for him. On May 28, 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor, depicting his route to the Arctic. The Anoatok historic home at Kane, Pennsylvania was named to allude to his Arctic adventures.


The United States Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin: A personal narrative; Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856, at the Making of America Project. Arctic explorations: The second Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, 1853,54,55; Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1857, at the Making of America Project.

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Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer's Timeline

February 3, 1820
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
February 16, 1857
Age 37
Havana, Havana, Cuba
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States