PEARY, Robert E.

(1856 - 1920)
“I shall find a way or make one”

Robert Edwin Peary was an American Arctic explorer, often credited with leading the first expedition to reach the North Pole in 1909.  In 1881 he enlisted in the US navy as a civil engineer, and remained in the service until his retirement, with permitted absences given for Arctic exploration.  His first expedition, in 1886, was an attempt to cross Greenland by dog sled but he was poorly prepared and had to turn back as they ran short of supplies.  The second expedition to Greenland in 1891-92 was almost a disaster as Peary broke his leg upon arrival and had to delay the trek for 6 months whilst he healed, although he used this time to learn survival techniques and what appropriate clothing to wear from the local Inuit population. In addition, he developed a system of establishing supply caches for the expedition teams, which he called “The Peary System”.  The expedition team also included Peary’s wife, Josephine Diebtich-Peary, who became the first women to take part in Arctic exploration.  Despite its poor beginning, the expedition was able to conclusively prove that Greenland was an island.

There was a further unsuccessful expedition in 1898-1902, and in 1908 he set out on his third attempt to reach the Pole, accompanied on the last stage of the trek by his assistant and fellow explorer, African American Matthew Henson, and four Inuit.  Peary and his companions purportedly reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. However, when Peary returned home, he found that his former colleague, Frederick Cook, was claiming to have reached the North Pole independently in April 1908. Although the National Geographic Society eventually credited Peary with the attainment, later reassessment found Peary’s notebooks “lacking in essential data”.  Whatever the truth, a contemporary journalist best sums it up, when he wrote "Whatever the truth is, the situation is as wonderful as the Pole …. whatever they found there, those explorers, they have left there a story as great as a continent."

Peary received a number of awards from geographical societies during his lifetime, and in 1911 received the Thanks of Congress and was promoted to rear admiral. He served two terms as president of The Explorers Club and retired

His published works include Northward over the “Great Ice” (1898), The North Pole (1910), and Secrets of Polar Travel (1917).



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 Robert E. PEARY

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Northward Over the Great Ice

PEARY, Robert E.