Fritjof Nansen's infamous Fram was built in 1892 in the Colin Archer shipyard, based in Larvik, Norway. Nansen had several theories about the different Arctic currents, which hadn't ever been recorded, but in order to test these theories he needed a boat that could survive the immense forces put upon it by the ice. He formulated his ideas for this groundbreaking vessel in 1890, and wrote:
"I shall build a vessel as small and as strong as possible ... which will bear up under pressure from the ice and which will be lifted up instead of being pushed down by the screwing action of the ice"
Fram had a 70 centimetre thick shell made up of three separate layers. The two inner layers were solid oak, and the third outermost layer of greenheart, an extremely durable hardwood especially known for its resistance to attacks by marine borers (microscopic creatures that use wood for nutrition). The Fram would be held stationary in the ice for long periods of time and susceptible to attcks from such microorganisms. She was also reinforced on her bows and stern with sheets of metal to act as ice breakers, and her propeller and rudder could be raised out of the water to prevent damage when the ice closed in. She had three masts and was rigged as a schooner, although she also had quite a powerful 220 horse power engine, run on solid fuel which could give a speed of up to seven knots. She was not an elegant sailing vessel and it was said:
She sailed with the smooth aplomb of an old barrel, but in ice she performed splendidly.
Down below she had a saloon at her center, surrounded by cabins for thirteen crew members. Her walls and ceiling were thickly insulated with felt and reindeer hair to give added protection against the elements, and she also had a skylight, fitted with three panes of glass, to prevent the build up of condensation that had plagued other polar vessels.
In 1893, on the 21st July, Nansen and his crew left Norway with five years of provisions aboard their prototype vessel. They were bound for the Arctic, and after a difficult passage through the Siberian Islands, finally came to a standstill in the ice on the 25th September 1893. The ship remained in the ice for nearly three years and arrived back in Norway on the 13th August 1896, although Nansen himself travelled back to Norway aboard Windward, the ship of englishman Frederick Jackson who had been leading an expedition in the area of the pole and who had encountered Nansen and his sled team, wild and ragged, on the way*.
Fram's next voyage of adventure was in 1898 under the leadership of Otto Sverdrup. Otto had been a close friend of Nansen's, taking part in his Greenland expedition, and the captain of Fram during her maiden voyage to the pole. Indeed, it was he who brought her home to Norway while Nansen gallivanted around the Arctic! he knew Fram well, having been in charge of rigging her in Larvick as she was being built.
Sverdrup's expedition took him to the coast of Greenland and should have taken him further nother, but the ice was too think, and so instead the Fram was used as a base for four years of exploration of the area around Ellesmere Island. Fram returned to Oslo in 1902
In 1910 Fram set off again, this time with Roald Amundsen at the helm. She had been meant to try once again to reach the North Pole, but the news of Robert Peary's arrival at the pole in 1909 meant Amundsen rather sneakily decided to try for the South Pole instead. While Amundsen dashed for the pole, the Fram was used to explore the southern coastline reaching 78o41', making her the vessel to travel both the furthest north, and the furthest south.
Fram returned home to Norway in 1912, but the outbreak of WW1 meant her life was a lot less varied for the next few years. In 1916, the Fram Committee was set up in order to preserve the ship, one of the principal members being her old friend Otto Sverdrup. In 1929, after years of fundraising, she was taken for repairs in Verksted and restroed back to her former glory. Then, in 1935, she returned to Oslo and was brought ashore, housed under a building to protect her from the elements she had fought against for so long. The Fram Museum was subsequently opened by the king and queen of Norway later that year**.
The museum has been extended and developed over the ensuing years, now housing various exhibits on polar exploration. In 1996, to celebrate the centenary of Fram's return from her first voyage, a five Kroner coin was struck with an image of her. She remains preserved as one of the most heroic little ships ever to brave the ice.
* See http://www.ocean98.org/nans.htm for more information of this encounter and on Nansen himself.
** See the rather touristy http://www.fram.museum.no/ for more information on the Fram Museum.