Ferdinand von Wrangel

Baron[1] Ferdinand Friedrich Georg Ludwig von Wrangel (Russian: Барон Фердина́нд Петро́вич Вра́нгель, tr. Ferdinand Petrovich Vrangel'; 9 January 1797 [O.S. 29 December 1796] – 6 June [O.S. 25 May] 1870) was a Baltic German explorer and seaman in the Imperial Russian Navy, Honorable Member of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, a founder of the Russian Geographic Society. He is best known as chief manager of the Russian-American Company, in fact governor of the Russian settlements in present-day Alaska.

Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel
Ferdinand von Wrangel.jpg
6th Governor of Russian America
In office
1 June 1830 – 29 October 1835
Preceded byPyotr Yegorovich Chistyakov
Succeeded byIvan Kupreyanov
Minister of the Navy
In office
18 May 1855 – 27 July 1857
Preceded byAlexander Menshikov
Succeeded byNikolay Metlin
Personal details
Born(1797-12-29)29 December 1797
Pskov, Governorate of Pskov, Russian Empire
Died25 May 1870(1870-05-25) (aged 72)
Dorpat, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
NationalityBaltic German
SpouseElisabeth Teodora Natalia Karolina de Rossillon
ChildrenWilhelm, Peter, Ferdinand, Elisabeth, Eva
Military service
Allegiance Russian Empire
Branch/service Imperial Russian Navy
 Imperial Russian Army
Years of service1815–1864
Adjutant General
Battles/warsCrimean War

In English texts, Wrangel is sometimes spelled Vrangel, a transliteration from Russian, which more closely represents its pronunciation in German, or Wrangell.


Wrangel was born in Pskov,[2] into the noble Baltic German Wrangel family and was a distant nephew of Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich von Wrangel. He graduated from the Naval Cadets College in 1815. He participated in Vasily Golovnin's world cruise on the ship Kamchatka in 1817–1819 and belonged to the cohort of Baltic-German navigators who were instrumental in Imperial Russia's maritime explorations.[3]

Kolymskaya expeditionEdit

He was appointed in 1820 to command the Kolymskaya expedition to explore the Russian polar seas. Sailing from St. Petersburg, he arrived at Nizhnekolymsk on 2 November 1820, and early in 1821 journeyed to Cape Shelagskiy on sledges drawn by dogs. He sailed afterward up Kolyma River, advancing about 125 miles into the interior, through territory inhabited by the Yakuts. On 10 March 1822, he resumed his journey northward, and traveled 46 days on the ice, reaching 72° 2' north latitude. He left Nizhnekolymsk on 1 November 1823, and returned to St. Petersburg on 15 August 1824.[2]

He established that north of the Kolyma River and Cape Shelagsky there was an open sea, not dry land, as people thought. Together with Fyodor Matyushkin and P. Kuzmin, Wrangel described the Siberian coastline from the Indigirka River to the Kolyuchinskaya Bay in the Chukchi Sea. (See Northeast Passage.) His expedition made a valuable research in glaciology, geomagnetics, and climatology and also collected data about natural resources and native population of that remote area.

Krotky world voyageEdit

Having been promoted to commander, Wrangel led the Russian world voyage on the ship Krotky in 1825–1827.

Governor of Russian AlaskaEdit

He was appointed chief manager of the Russian-American Company in 1829, effectively governor of its settlements in North America (present day Alaska). Wrangel was the first of a series of bachelor appointees to the office of governor who had to find a wife before assuming the duties in America, the Russian American Company rules having been changed in 1829.[4] Prior to his departure for Russia's American colonies, he was married to Elisabeth Theodora Natalie Karoline de Rossillon, daughter of Baron Wilhelm de Rossillon.

He traveled to his post early in 1829, by way of Siberia and Kamchatka. After thoroughly reforming the administration, he introduced the cultivation of the potato, opened and regulated the working of several mines, and urged upon the home government the organization of a fur company. He promoted investment, and sent out missionaries. He began a survey of the country, opened roads, built bridges and government buildings. He made geographical and ethnographical observations, which he embodied in a memoir to the navy department. Recalled in 1834, he returned by way of the Isthmus of Panama and the United States, where he visited several cities.[2]


Wrangel was promoted to rear admiral in 1837, and made director of the ship-timber department in the navy office, which he held for twelve years. He became vice-admiral in 1847, but resigned in 1849, and temporarily severed his connection with the navy to assume the presidency of the newly reorganized Russian-American Company.[2] Wrangel had been a member of the board of directors of the Russian-American Company from 1840 to 1849.[5]

In 1854 he re-entered active service and was made chief director of the hydrographical department of the navy [2] He was the Minister of the Navy 1855–1857.

Retirement and deathEdit

Wrangel retired in 1864. He opposed the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867. Wrangel wrote the book Journey along the northern coastline of Siberia and the Arctic Ocean and other books about the peoples of northwestern America.

He lived in his last years in Ruil (Roela in Estonian) in the eastern part of Estonia. He had bought the manor in 1840. He died in Dorpat, Livonia.[2]


An account of the physical observations during his first journey was published in German (Berlin, 1827), and also in German extracts from Wrangel's journals, Reise längs der Nordküste von Sibirien und auf dem Eismeere in den Jahren 1820-1824 (2 vols., Berlin, 1839), which was translated into English as Wrangell's Expedition to the Polar Sea (2 vols., London, 1840). The complete report of the expedition appeared as "Puteshestvie po severnym beregam Sibiri, po Ledovitomu Moryu, sovershennoe v 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823 i 1824 godakh" (2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1841), and was translated into French with notes by Prince Galitzin, under the title Voyage sur les côtes septentrionales de la Sibérie et de la mer glaciale (2 vols., 1841). From the French version of the complete report an English one was made under the title A Journey on the Northern Coast of Siberia and the Icy Sea (2 vols., London, 1841).[2] The book influenced Charles Darwin's thinking on animal navigation, leading him to propose that humans and animals possess an innate ability for dead reckoning. Darwin wrote:[6]

With regard to the question of the means by which animals find their way home from a long distance, a striking account, in relation to man, will be found in the English translation of the Expedition to North Siberia, by Von Wrangell. He there describes the wonderful manner in which the natives kept a true course towards a particular spot, whilst passing for a long distance through hummocky ice, with incessant changes of direction, and with no guide in the heavens or on the frozen sea. He states (but I quote only from memory of many years standing) that he, an experienced surveyor, and using a compass, failed to do that which these savages easily effected. Yet no one will suppose that they possessed any special sense which is quite absent in us. We must bear in mind that neither a compass, nor the north star, nor any other such sign, suffices to guide a man to a particular spot through an intricate country, or through hummocky ice, when many deviations from a straight course are inevitable, unless the deviations are allowed for, or a sort of "dead reckoning" is kept.[6]

Wrangel also published:[2]

  • Ocherk puti iz Sitki v Sankt-Peterburg (Report of Travel from Sitka to St. Petersburg) (1836)
    • French translation: Journal de voyage de Sitka à Saint Pétersbourg (Paris, 1836)
    • English translation prepared from the French: Journal of a Voyage from Sitka to St. Petersburg (London, 1837)
  • Nachrichten über die Russischen Besitzungen an der Nordwestküste America's (2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1839)
    • French translation: Renseignements statistiques et ethnographiques sur les possessions Russes de la côte Nord-Ouest de l'Amérique (Paris, 1839)
    • English translation: Statistical and Ethnographical Notices on the Russian Possessions in North America (London, 1841)

List of places named after WrangelEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a former title (translated as Baron). In Germany since 1919, it forms part of family names. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1889). "Wrangell, Ferdinand Petrovitch, Baron von" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  3. ^ Daum, Andreas (2019). "German Naturalists in the Pacific around 1800: Entanglement, Autonomy, and a Transnational Culture of Expertise". In Berghoff, Hartmut (ed.). Explorations and Entanglements: Germans in Pacific Worlds from the Early Modern Period to World War I. Berghahn Books. pp. 79–102.
  4. ^ Alix O'Grady: From the Baltic to Russian America 1829–1836, pp. 21–25. Alaska History no. 51, The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario & Fairbanks, Alaska.
  5. ^ Richard A. Pierce: Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary, Alaska History no. 33, Limestone Press, Kingston, Ont. and Fairbanks, Alaska, 1990, p. 547.
  6. ^ a b Darwin, Charles (24 April 1873). "Origin of Certain Instincts". Nature. 7 (179): 417–418. Bibcode:1873Natur...7..417D. doi:10.1038/007417a0.

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by Governor of Russian Colonies in America
Succeeded by