Under the explorer Roald Amundsen, Gjøa was the first ship to transit the Northwest Passage. Named for the fighting Valkyrie of the Vikings, she was built for the fishing trades, in which she worked for twenty-eight years under Captain Asbjørn Sexe of Hangesund and, from the mid-1880s, Captain H. C. Johanneson of Tromsø Amundsen bought the shallow-draft Gjøa for his intended Arctic voyage in 1900 and spent the following year on trials between Norway and Greenland, after which he gave her 3-inch oak sheathing, iron strapping on the bow, and a small kerosene-fueled internal combustion engine.
On June 16, 1903, Gjøa sailed from Christiania (Oslo) with Amundsen and a crew of six. They anchored first at Godhavn on the west side of Greenland, where they embarked sleds, dogs, and kayaks. Crossing Melville Bay, they transited Lancaster Sound, and descended south into Peel Sound between Somerset and Prince William Islands before anchoring at King William Island on September 12, 1903. They spent two years at Gjøa haven (68°39N, 96°08W) taking observations in an effort to determine the location and movement of the Magnetic North Pole. On August 13, 1905, they sailed west between continental Canada and the south shore of Victoria Island, and on August 26, off Banks Island (in what is now Amundsen Gulf), they encountered the U.S. whaler Charles Hanson, which had sailed from the Pacific. At this point they knew that they had transited the elusive Northwest Passage. They wintered again off King Point, during which one of the crew died. From here Amundsen trekked up the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers to Eagle, Alaska, where he telegraphed the news of his success to the world. Gjøa arrived in Nome on August 31, 1906, pausing briefly before pushing on to San Francisco. Gjøa passed through the Golden Gate on October 19 and was given a hero's welcome by the city, still recovering from the calamitous earthquake in April.
Despite an invitation to be the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal, at the instigation of the Norwegian community in San Francisco, Gjøa was turned over to the city and put on exhibit in Golden Gate Park. She remained there for thirty years, admired but slowly deteriorating. A reconstruction of the ship was attempted in 1939, but World War II intervened, and the work was only completed in 1949. Gjøa remained in San Francisco until 1974, when she was returned to Norway and exhibited at the Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum, Bigdøy, Oslo.