Who Were The First People To Reach The North Pole?

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After several unsuccessful attempts, American explorer and former navy officer Robert E. Peary (1856–1920), and fellow explorer Matthew Henson (1866–1955), along with several Inuit (Eskimo) helpers reached the North Pole by dogsled on April 6, 1909. The North Pole, which lies in the center of the Arctic Ocean, is covered with shifting masses of ice. There is no land underfoot. The native people, the Inuits of Greenland, knew the best ways to survive in the Arctic. Peary gained valuable information from them during several trips to Greenland, including how to dress in furs, drive dogsleds, and build igloos. He also learned that the best time to try to reach the North Pole would be during the winter, when the ice would be the most solid.

Departing from Ellesmere Island (west of Greenland), Peary led an expedition of 23 men, 19 sleds, and 133 dogs. The party made camps at various points along the route, leaving men and supplies at each camp. When the final group of 6 reached the North Pole, they checked their instruments (which were not precisely accurate) and sledded further, just to make sure they had not fallen short of their goal. Then they planted an American flag in the ice. After hurrying back to the base camp in an amazing sixteen days, Peary learned that another explorer, Frederick Cook (1865–1940), asserted that he had reached the North Pole a year earlier. After a bitter battle, Peary disproved Cook's claim and was recognized for his accomplishments. Peary's story was later questioned, however, by historians. They pointed out that Henson reached the Pole forty-five minutes before Peary, since one of his jobs on the expedition was to clear the trail. Thus Henson, to Peary, was probably the first person to stand on the site of the North Pole.

Further Information: Dwyer, Christopher. Robert Peary and the Quest for the North Pole. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1992; Mason, Anthony. Peary and Amundsen: Race to the Poles. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1995; The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. Robert Edwin Peary. [Online] Available http://blue.bowdoin.edu/dept/arctic/peary.html, December 12, 1999; Scheller, William. The World's Greatest Explorers. Minneapolis, Minn.: Oliver Press, 1992, pp. 117–32.

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