Robert Edwin Peary, who was described as "one of the greatest of all explorers", claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909. From the moment his performance was announced to the world, Peary was caught up in a controversy that overshadowed his other achievements as a trained civil engineer, natural historian, and expedition leader. Here are some things you should know about this daring Arctic adventurer.
1. Robert Peary was very close to his mother.
Robert Edwin Peary was born on May 6, 1856 in Cresson, Pennsylvania, an industrial city in the Allegheny Mountains. His father died when he was three years old, and his mother Mary Wiley Peary returned to her home state of Maine with her son. As an only child, Peary had a close relationship with his mother, and when he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, they lived together in off-campus rooms. When Peary married Josephine Diebitsch, Mary accompanied the couple on their honeymoon on the Jersey Shore and then moved in with the newlyweds, to Josephine's complete surprise. The discoverer entrusted all his efforts to his mother all his life. In a prophetic letter to her after his first expedition to Greenland in 1
"Next winter I will be one of the leaders in the capital's highest circles and find powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead letting it come as it wants … remember mother, i must have fame and i can't agree with years of everyday drudgery and a name in late life when i see an opportunity to obtain it now. "
2. Robert Peary had a sideline as a taxidermist.
Peary enjoyed an outdoor childhood where he played sports and studied natural history. After graduating in civil engineering, Peary moved to his mother's hometown, Fryeburg, Maine, to work as a surveyor. But the county barely needed a surveyor, and he taxidermied birds to supplement his income. He charged $ 1.50 for a robin and $ 1.75 to $ 2.25 for ducks and falcons.
3. Before going to the North Pole, Robert Peary went to Nicaragua.
In 1881, Peary was commissioned by the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, which made him a naval officer with a rank equivalent to that of a lieutenant. Three years later, the renowned civil engineer Aniceto chose Menocal Peary to lead a field party that is investigating an area in Nicaragua for a canal that connects the Pacific and the Atlantic. Peary's ability to hack through dense jungle and climb mountains so impressed Menocal that he hired Peary in 1887 for a second survey of Nicaragua, this time with a well-funded 200-person operation.
4. Robert Peary met Matthew Henson in a hat shop in Washington, DC.
Although some details of the encounter are different, Peary met his future polar partner Matthew Henson at B.H. Stinemetz & Son, hatter and furrier at 1237 Pennsylvania Avenue. Peary needed a sun helmet for his second trip to Nicaragua. He also had to hire a valet. The shopkeeper recommended his employee Henson, who certainly impressed Peary with his years of experience on ships. Henson accompanied Peary to Nicaragua and on every subsequent Arctic expedition thereafter, including the successful North Pole excursion in 1908-1909.
5. Robert Peary made seven trips to the Arctic.
Peary's first trip to Greenland took place in 1886 between his two trips to Central America. With a Danish companion, he hiked 100 miles over the Greenland ice cap, but had to turn around when food ran out.
During his second and third expeditions (1891-1892 and 1893-1895), Peary, Henson and the company crossed the northern end of the ice cap and found that Greenland's land did not extend to the North Pole. On his fourth trip (1896-1897) [PDF] he brought meteorites back for the American Museum of Natural History. Peary's fifth and sixth expeditions (1898-1902 and 1905-1906) tested a possible route to the North Pole and established relationships with Inughuit communities that Peary relied on for help and care. Peary and Henson finally reached the North Pole on the seventh expedition in 1908-1909.
6. Robert Peary's success in Greenland contrasted with two previous polar disasters.
In 1879 the newspaper mogul James Gordon Bennett and the naval commander, George Washington DeLong, organized an expedition to the North Pole across the Bering Strait in a reinforced ship, the . Jeannette . After months of distress, ice crushed the ship and the crew desperately fled to Siberia, where all but two members died. Then Army Lieutenant Adolphus Greely led a 25-member magnetic survey expedition to the Canadian high Arctic in 1881. Aid ships did not reach them for three years. When the rescue arrived and they returned home, only Greely and five other men had survived the hunger. Public appetite for polar adventures waned until Peary's triumphs in Greenland earned a heroic reputation a few years later, reviving interest in the search for the North Pole.
7. Robert Peary lost eight toes due to frostbite.
On the strenuous march to build his camp in Greely's abandoned Fort Conger on the 1898-1902 expedition, Peary suffered a severe case of frostbite. When they got to the hut, Henson took off Peary's shoes and exposed marble-like flesh to her knees. When Henson took off the commander's socks, eight of Peary's toes bounced off them. As Bradley Robinson writes in the Henson biography Dark Companion Peary reportedly said: "A few toes are not much to give to reach the pole."
8. Robert Peary's wife Josephine accompanied him to the Arctic when she was eight months pregnant.
Josephine Diebitsch Peary was also an impressive adventurer [PDF]. Her father Hermann Diebitsch, a Prussian military leader who immigrated to Washington, led the Smithsonian Institution's exchange system. Josephine worked as a clerk in the Smithsonian before marrying Peary in 1888. She insisted on accompanying his second expedition in 1891-1892 and directed the daily operations of the base camp in Greenland, including rationing regulations, bartering, hunting and sewing fur. She even helped protect the men from a walrus attack by reloading their rifles as quickly as they had shot them.
She also went on Peary's third trip to Greenland when she was eight months pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Marie Anighito – the so-called Snow Baby of newspapers – in her camp. Overall, Josephine went to Greenland several times, wrote three bestsellers, gave lectures, was an honorary member of the American Alpine Club and other organizations, and decorated the family's home with narwhal tusks, polar bear skins, fur carpets, and other polar trophies.
9. Matthew Henson saved Robert Peary from an attacking musk ox.
In 1895, Peary and Henson sought a way to the pole across the northern edge of the Greenland ice cap, just as on their previous trip in 1891-1892. They reached a promontory called Navy Cliff in the far northeast of Greenland, but couldn't go any further. On the way back to their camp on the northwest coast, they suffered from exhaustion, exposure, and hunger. Your only chance to return to the camp was to find game.
As described in Dark Companion Peary and Henson came across a herd of musk oxen. Henson and Peary killed several, but in his weakened condition Peary shot and missed one. The animal turned and attacked Peary. Henson took his gun and pulled the trigger. "Behind [Peary] came the subdued impact of a heavy, fallen thing, like a frantic rock landing in a thick snow pillow," writes Bradley Robinson in Dark Companion . "Ten feet away was a pile of brown, shaggy hair that was half immersed in a drift of snow."
10. Robert Peary fled with a 30-ton meteorite.
In 1818, the explorer John Ross wrote about several meteorites near Greenland's Cape York, which served as the Inughuit's only metal source for tools. In 1896, Peary took over the three giant meteorites from their area. (By the end of the 19th century, Inughuit had received trading tools and no longer needed the stones for this purpose.) The largest of the three weighed 30 tons and needed heavy equipment to load it onto Peary's ship without that Capsize ship.
Josephine Peary sold the meteorites to the American Museum of Natural History for $ 40,000 (nearly $ 1.2 million in today's money). They are still on display in the museum's meteorite hall, where specially-made supports for the heaviest extend into the bedrock of the island of Manhattan.
11. Theodore Roosevelt was one of Robert Peary's greatest supporters.
Peary and President Theodore Roosevelt devoted themselves to the stressful life, and TR, who had served as the Navy's deputy secretary, helped Peary get his multi-year absence from civil engineering. "It seems to me that Peary has done a valuable job as a polar explorer and can do additional work that entitles him to have every chance of this government doing this work," Roosevelt wrote in 1903 to the Secretary of the Navy, William H. Moody Peary paid back the favors by naming his custom-built steamship SS Roosevelt .
In 1906, TR presented the discoverer with the National Geographic Society's highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, for Peary's achievement of the far north. Roosevelt also contributed to the introduction to Peary's book on his successful search for the North Pole.
12. Robert Peary met his archenemy Frederick Cook more than a decade before her feud.
Frederick Cook, a New York doctor, signed up as a surgeon for Peary's second trip to Greenland in 1891-1892. Neither Peary nor Matthew Henson were impressed with his wilderness skills. Cook then went on an expedition to Antarctica, claiming that he climbed Denali in Alaska, although his climbing partners had denied it.
When Peary and Henson returned to Greenland in April 1909 after reaching the North Pole on April 6, they were shocked to hear that Cook reportedly reached the Pole in the spring of 1908 and told the world only five days before Peary's return to the Civilization had announced. "[Cook] was at the pole on April 21, 1908 or at no other time," Peary told newspapers. "He just handed a golden brick to the public."
From then on, Peary and his family vigorously defended his claim to the pole. Cook had left his diaries and instruments in Greenland to announce his discovery to the world, and Peary refused to carry them on board his ship to New York, so it became Cook's word against Peary & # 39; s. Peary also had the backing of wealthy donors, the New York Times, and the National Geographic Society, who eventually settled the matter in Peary's favor. But the controversy never went away; Back in 2009, the hundredth anniversary of Peary's claim, historians and explorers rechecked Peary's records and found inconsistencies in the distances he traveled each day on his way to the Pole. Cook's diaries were lost in Greenland and he spent time in prison for postal fraud. The jury is still open.
13. Robert Peary advocated an aviation department.
Peary was an early advocate of aviation for exploration and military defense purposes. When the First World War devoured Europe, he advocated the creation of an air service, the Department of Aeronautics, which could operate alongside the Army and Navy and then be used for life-saving coastal patrols. Peary went on a 20-city tour to collect public support for the Aerial Coastal Patrol Fund and raised $ 250,000 to build stations along the U.S. coast.
The Navy later implemented many of Peary's suggestions, but the tour left the discoverer at a frail health. He was diagnosed with incurable pernicious anemia and died on February 20, 1920. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery and his burial site is decorated with a large granite ball decorated with a Latin motto. Inveniam viam aut faciam – "I will find a way or make one."
Additional sources : Dark Companion The Arctic Grail: The Search for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole