Kane, Elisha Kent, 1820–57, American physician and arctic explorer, b. Philadelphia. Seeking adventure after medical school, Kane entered naval service and before he was 30 had seen many parts of the world and had served in the Mexican War. As senior medical officer he sailed (1850) on the first Grinnell expedition in search of the lost Franklin party. Kane's U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin (1853; repr. in part as Adrift in the Arctic Ice Pack, 1915) stirred such interest that he was able to organize and lead the second Grinnell expedition (1853–55). This expedition, of which the American physician and arctic explorer I. I. Hayes was medical officer, passed northward through Smith Sound at the head of Baffin Bay, discovered and explored Kane Basin, and discovered Kennedy Channel beyond. Several sledging journeys were undertaken, on one of which a record of lat. 80°10−N was achieved. Humboldt Glacier was sighted, and scientific observations resulted in valuable new information on the Arctic regions. Frozen in at Rensselaer Bay, the party abandoned ship, and Kane led a difficult retreat by land to Upernavik, Greenland. Kane's expedition had contributed more knowledge of Greenland than that of anyone before him. His health, never robust, was weakened by the rigors of his adventurous life, and he lived only long enough to complete his narrative of the second expedition, Arctic Explorations (1856), which had tremendous sales. The spiritualist Margaret Fox (see Fox sisters) claimed after his death that she had been his wife. The Love Life of Dr. Kane (1866) contains many of his letters to Margaret Fox.
See studies by J. Mirsky (1954, repr. 1971), O. M. Villarejo (1965), and G. W. Corner (1972).