Donald B. MacMillan

Donald B. MacMillan

Donald Baxter MacMillan (November 10, 1874 - September 7, 1970) was an American explorer, sailor, researcher and lecturer who made over 30 expeditions to the Arctic during his 46-year career. He pioneered the use of radios, airplanes, and electricity in the Arctic, brought back films and thousands of photographs of Arctic scenes, and put together a dictionary of the Inuktitut language.

Early life

Born in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1874, MacMillan lived in Freeport, Maine after the deaths of both his parents in 1883 (his father died while captaining a Grand Banks fishing schooner) and 1886 (his mother died suddenly), and was educated at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, graduating in 1898 with a degree in geology. He later taught at Worcester Academy from 1903 to 1908.

Arctic Explorations and Two World Wars

After ten years as a high school teacher, MacMillan caught the attention of explorer and fellow Bowdoin graduate Robert E. Peary when he saved the lives of nine shipwrecked people in two nights.cite book |last=West |first=James E. |authorlink=James E. West (Scouting) |coauthors= |title=The Boy Scouts Book of True Adventure |year=1931 |publisher=Putnam |location=New York |oclc=8484128] Peary subsequently invited MacMillan to join his 1908 journey to the North Pole. Although MacMillan himself had to turn back at 84°29' on March 14 because of frozen heels, Peary allegedly reached the Pole 26 days later.

MacMillan spent the next few years travelling in Labrador, carrying out ethnological studies among the Innu and Inuit. He organized and commanded the ill-fated Crocker Land Expedition to northern Greenland in 1913. Unfortunately Crocker Land turned out to be a mirage. The expedition members were was stranded until 1917, when Captain Robert A. Bartlett of "The Neptune" finally rescued them.

After serving in the Navy during World War I, MacMillan began raising money for another Arctic expedition. In 1921, the schooner "Bowdoin" -- named for MacMillan's alma mater -- was launched from East Boothbay, Maine and set sail for Baffin Island, where MacMillan and his crew spent the winter.

In September 1926 MacMillan led a group of explorers which included three women and five scientists to Sydney, Nova Scotia. The team spent several months beforehand collecting flora and fauna in Labrador and Greenland. He believed it was possible that the ancient ruins off Sculpin Island, twenty miles from Nain, Labrador, are the remains of a Norse settlement 1,000 years old. On the side bordering the mainland MacMillan found what he considered the vestiges of ten or twelve houses. He estimated the age of the dwellings to be hundreds of years old according to the lichens which partially covered their foundations. However MacMillan could not say for certain if these had been built by Vikings. According to Eskimo tradition the "stone igloos" were constructed by men who came from the sea in ships. Eskimos called the site"Tunitvik", meaning "the place of the Norseman". MacMillan said the strongest argument that the Sculpin dwellings were of Viking origin was their resemblance to those he found in Greenland the previous year. ["MacMillan Finds Old Norse Ruins", New York Times, September 5, 1926, pg. 1.]

He joined the Navy again during World War II, serving in the Hydrographic Office in Washington, DC, and transferred the "Bowdoin" to the Navy for the duration of the war.

Later life

After the war, MacMillan continued his trips to the Arctic, taking researchers north and carrying supplies for the MacMillan-Moravian School he established in 1929. He made his final trip to the Arctic in 1954 at age 80, and lived until 1970. MacMillan is buried in Provincetown.


In 1927, the Boy Scouts of America made MacMillan an "Honorary Scout", a new category of Scout created that same year. This distinction was give to "American citizens whose achievements in outdoor activity, exploration and worthwhile adventure are of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys...". The other eighteen who were awarded this distinction were: Roy Chapman Andrews; Robert Bartlett; Frederick Russell Burnham; Richard E. Byrd; George Kruck Cherrie; James L. Clark; Merian C. Cooper; Lincoln Ellsworth; Louis Agassiz Fuertes; George Bird Grinnell; Charles A. Lindbergh; Clifford H. Pope; George Palmer Putnam; Kermit Roosevelt; Carl Rungius; Stewart Edward White; Orville Wright. cite journal |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1927 |month=August 29 |title=Around the World |journal=Time (magazine) |volume= |issue= |pages= |id= |url=,9171,723029,00.html |accessdate= 2007-10-24 |quote= ]

MacMillan Pier in Provincetown, MA is named in his honor.

External links

* A more complete MacMillan biography, courtesy of [ Bowdoin College]
* [ The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum]
* [ Bio by Laurel Gaudazno] of Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum
* [ An Arctic Expedition Rediscovered] by Amy Nevala of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


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