Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Robert Peary and Matthew Henson become the first to reach the North Pole...or Were They?

On April 6, 1909, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson became the first to reach the North Pole. Peary and Henson explored the Arctic region between 1891-1909, and along with four Eskimos, are generally believed to be the first people to have reached the North Pole.
Peary had previous experience as an explorer dating back to his days as civil engineer in the navy. He originally worked in Nicaragua as a surveyor during the building of the Nicaraguan Canal. After developing an interest in exploration, he was able to obtain a leave of absence from the navy in order to explore Greenland. His findings there were believed to be significant, and he began to plan an exploration of the North Pole. On these trips, Matthew Henson served as his guide, dog sled driver and interpreter. He would later go on to work as a clerk in a New York Customs House.
The two were thrilled when they returned from the 1909 trek to stake their claim as the first two visitors to the North Pole, only to find that Dr. Frederick A. Cook, who had served as the ship’s surgeon on an 1891-1892 trip to the Arctic, had already made a similar claim. The dispute was extremely contentious, with both sides making their cases and attempting to discredit the other through books and interviews. Peary seems to have gained more recognition for the discovery, as Congress officially thanked him when he retired from the navy in 1911 as a rear admiral.  However, the fight over the credit for the “founding” of the North Pole continues to this day.

It’s incredible to think that Peary and Hanson made their journeys to the Arctic in a wooden ship. I can’t imagine the conditions they faced with what now seems like primitive technology. Even more incredibly, Perry’s wife Josephine accompanied him on many of his expeditions. On one trek, she even gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Marie Perry, while on board (poor woman). Here’s a video of the departure of Perry’s ship from New York in 1906.

Robert Peary was a Bowdoin alumnus, and the school has a museum dedicated to his feats as an explorer (the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum). Here is a great video from the museum showing some of their pieces relating to Peary’s trek to the Arctic, which also shows modern analysis of exactly how close to the North Pole Peary and his crew actually were. *hint - they weren't actually at the North Pole. 

No comments:

Post a Comment