Robert E. Peary

November 24, 2012 10:10 pm

Did he or didn’t he? For years, people have debated whether Robert Peary was the first explorer to reach the North Pole.
EARLY LIFE
Robert Edwin Peary was born in 1856 in Cresson, Pennsylvania. He joined the United States Navy as an engineer. As an officer, Peary participated in a survey in Nicaragua in 1884 and 1885. Afterward, he headed north to explore polar areas.
EXPLORATIONS IN GREENLAND
In 1895, Peary almost died of starvation while making surveys for the Navy in Greenland. Peary met with local Inuit people, who taught him their survival skills.
In 1900, Peary reached the northernmost part of Greenland. Peary’s survey proved that Greenland was an island. Today, Greenland’s northern coastal region is called Peary Land, in honor of Peary.
NORTH POLE EXPEDITIONS
Next, Peary aimed to reach the North Pole. Nobody had ever crossed the treacherous ice cap that surrounded it or survived its bitter cold.
In 1902, Peary’s first attempt to reach the North Pole failed. In 1905, Peary tried again to reach the pole. He set a record for traveling farthest north, but bad weather and a lack of food forced him to turn back.
In 1908, Peary made his third attempt to reach the North Pole. His expedition included 24 men, 6 sleds, and 133 dogs. At last, on April 6, 1909, Peary reached the North Pole or came very close to it. He was accompanied by his friend, the African American explorer Matthew Henson, and four Inuit.
CONTROVERSY OVER PEARY’S CLAIM
Proud and relieved, the men made the long, cold journey back to base camp in Canada, and then home. But, to their shock, the men learned that an explorer named Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole before them!
Peary had to wait until 1911 before experts declared that Cook’s claim was false. Afterward, the U.S. Congress officially recognized Peary’s achievement. The Navy gave Peary the rank of rear admiral before he retired that year.
Peary died in 1920. Years later, in 1988, a team of explorers calculated that Peary had mistaken his route and missed the North Pole by at least 30 miles (48 kilometers). Another study challenged these findings. Today, scientists still debate whether Peary actually reached the exact location of the North Pole.
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