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Anthony Fiala, 1869-1950



While the genesis of the American Alpine Club was taking place in 1902, Anthony Fiala was busy putting the final touches on preparations for the Ziegler Polar Expedition, which had as its objective the attainment of the North Pole and of which he had been designated the leader. Indeed, he had just returned from a similar venture, and these two undertakings were to establish him in the front rank of polar explorers at the turn of the century.

Fiala was born in Jersey City and early in his life displayed outstanding ability as an artist and draftsman, a qualification which quickly led him to select illustrated journalism as his career. But his talent was soon diverted to the field of adventure by a burning desire to travel to the far reaches of the earth. He served in the military campaigns of 1898–1900, rising from the grade of trooper to the rank of major, and this experience served as the springboard to his Arctic travels. A man of persistence and persuasive charm, he is said to have secured a berth on the Baldwin-Ziegler expedition of 1901–1902 by paying a daily visit to Baldwin for some three months, to be met on each occasion by a negative decision. Finally Baldwin capitulated, and Fiala accompanied the expedition as photographer. During his two Arctic journeys, he exposed what are said to be the first motion pictures taken in the polar regions, and his artistic talent gave expression to valuable and beautiful interpretations of the aurora borealis. Under his direction important scientific work was carried on, especially in extending cartographic knowledge of the islands composing Franz Josef Land. During these expeditions he travelled more than 4000 miles by boat and by sledge and thereby acquired wide experience in matters of clothing and equipage. Retaining this valuable interest on his return to America, he established the sporting goods firm which bears his name and for the remainder of his life devoted himself to the design of field equipment, much of it especially produced to meet specific conditions anticipated by his clients.

The Arctic was not his only interest, for in 1913–14 he accompanied the late Theodore Roosevelt on his journeys in the Amazon Basin. This was his last major expedition for, on his return to New York, his business activities demanded the intimate supervision which only his wide experience could bring to bear. Although his field activities were restricted, his professional interests kept him in constant touch with persons and activities in the sphere of exploration. To all who came to him for counsel and assistance he gave eagerly of his time and store of knowledge, and many episodes of modern exploration known to every schoolboy can trace their success in some measure to his sage advice.

Fiala became a member of the Club in 1924, entering on the qualification of his polar experience. Though his list of mountain ascents is small, his interest in the Club was profound, and the visitors’ book in our rooms contains many records of his coming, almost every one accompanied by a sketch attesting to some occurrence of alpine or Club significance. His death leaves a gap in the dwindling list of those pioneers of modern exploration whose footsteps we might do well to follow—men who could achieve and be modest, who could strive and give freely of their harvest, who had their reward in knowledge of a job well done.

W. A.W.