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Robert Edwin Peary ( May 6, 1856 – February 20, 1920) was an American explorer who claimed to have been the first person, on April 6, 1909, to reach the geographic North Pole.Peary was born outside of Pittsburgh in Cresson, Pennsylvania and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the United States Navy 26 October 1881. Peary died at Washington D.C. in 1920. Peary had previously made several expeditions to the Arctic. Unlike many previous explorers, Peary studied Inuit survival techniques, learned to drive a dog sled, build igloos, and dress in practical furs in the native fashion. Peary also relied on the Inuit as hunters and dog-drivers on his expeditions, and pioneered the use of the system (which he called the "Peary system") of using support teams and supply caches for Arctic travel. He also had 8 toes amputated, but kept walkingFor his final assault on the North Pole, Peary set off from New York City, aboard the Roosevelt, under the command of Captain Robert Bartlett, with 23 men on July 6, 1908 and wintered near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island. From there they departed for the pole on March 1, 1909. The last support party turned back on April 1, 1909 in latitude 87°47' north. On the final stage of the journey to the North Pole only five of his men, Matthew Henson, Oatah, Egingwah, Seegloo, and Ookeah, remained. On 6 April, he established Camp Jesup near the pole. In his diary for 7 April (but actually written up much later when preparing his journals for publication), Peary wrote "The Pole at last!!! The prize of 3 centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last ..".He was promoted to Rear Admiral and given the thanks of Congress by a special act of 30 March 1911. Rear Admiral Peary received honors from numerous scientific societies of Europe and America for his Arctic explorations and discoveries. He died in Washington, D.C., 20 February 1920.
Robert Peary
Robert Peary
Peary's claim to have reached the North Pole has always been subject to doubt, for a number of reasons. He had no sooner returned from the Arctic before he learned that Frederick Cook was also claiming to have reached the pole the previous year; while Cook was almost certainly guilty of fraud and never went anywhere near the pole, the same questions and doubts concerning lack of evidence that applied to Cook applied equally to Peary. The party that accompanied Peary on the final stage of the journey included no one who was trained in navigation and could independently confirm his own navigational work, which some have controversially claimed to be particularly sloppy as he approached the pole. The distances and speeds Peary claimed to have achieved once the last support party turned back border on the incredible, almost three times that which he had accomplished up to that point. Peary's account of a beeline journey to the pole and back -- the only thing that might have allowed him to travel at such a speed -- is contradicted by Henson's account of tortured detours to avoid pressure ridges and open leads. The conflicting, and possibly dual fraudulent claims, of Cook and Peary prompted Roald Amundsen to take particularly extensive precautions in navigation during his South Pole expedition to leave no room for doubt concerning attainment of the pole. See Polheim.Some polar historians believe that Peary honestly thought he had reached the pole. Others have suggested that he was guilty of deliberately exaggerating his accomplishments. Still others have suggested that any hint that Peary did not reach the pole must be the work of pro-Cook conspirators who are simply out to discredit Peary. In 1989, the National Geographic Society concluded based on the shadows in photographs and ocean depth measures taken by Peary that he was no more than five miles away from the pole.In 2005 British explorer Tom Avery with four colleagues completed his trek to the pole in 36 days, 22 hours and 11 minutes using 16 husky dogs and pulling two sledges which were replicas of those used by Peary. Avery said he hopes he has vindicated the memory of the American adventurer and restored him to his rightful place in the annals of polar history.Peary was also the author of several books, the most famous being Northward over the Great Ice (1898) and Nearest the Pole (1907). The movie Glory & Honor by Kevin Hooks (2000) chronicles his journey to the pole.In his book Ninety Degrees North, polar historian and author Fergus Fleming describes Peary as "undoubtedly the most driven, possibly the most successful and probably the most unpleasant man in the annals of polar exploration." Most modern critics of Peary focus on his treatment of the Inuits, including a boy named Minik Wallace.He was a graduate of Bowdoin College, Maine. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Matthew Henson was reinterred nearby on April 6, 1988.The Liberty ship SS Robert E. Peary and the destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) were named for him.
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