To the Top of the Globe: American Explorers and Arctic Expeditions
As you spin your world globe, dozens of exotic and exciting locations appear. But what about those large, white expanses on the top of your globe? American explorers were as fascinated by the snowy landscape of the North Pole as with any jungle or desert. But who would reach the North Pole first and what would they find there?
Robert Peary's Intrepid Arctic Expedition
A member of the US navy, Robert Edwin Peary was actually assigned to the tropics when he came up with the bold plan to be the first man to reach the North Pole. Peary's original plan was to cross the unforgiving plains of Greenland using a dog-sled, but this 1886 expedition ended when Peary and his companion Christian Maigaard ran out of food. Peary continued to mount expeditions throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Peary charted many new routes and made contact with groups of indigenous peoples, learning new survival techniques such as building igloos and wearing clothing made of fur.
Fredrick Cook's Controversial Claim
Peary's last expedition ran from 1908-09 and on April 6, Peary made camp (as he claimed) within five miles from the North Pole. Peary was devastated when he returned to the states and learned that another American explorer, Fredrick Cook, claimed he had reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908 (a year before Peary). Cook knew Peary as he had served as the surgeon on his 1891-1892 expedition and saved many of the crew by preventing scurvy using fresh meat rather than vegetables and fruits (which were unavailable). In 1906, Cook attempted to make his name as an explorer by being the first man to summit Mt. McKinley but his disputes with Peary threw doubt upon his claim. Upon his return from the McKinley expedition, Cook mounted his own expedition to the North Pole in 1907 where he claimed to have reached the prize before rival Peary.
So Who Got There First?
Modern historians have disputed both men's claims believing that while they got very close, they didn't actually reach the North Pole. Critics dispute Peary's navigational documentation and the often inconsistent accounts of his speed. Cook never produced original navigational documentation to prove his claim and the few documents he did release provided patchwork or incorrect data. Debate still rages as to which man, if either, reached the North Pole. The first officially documented, undisputed expedition to the North Pole was led by British explorer Wally Herbert in 1969. Herbert had his own interest in the North Pole having published a book,The Noose of Laurels, which caused a frenzy when it claimed in 1989 that Peary had falsified his records.
The "Ice Woman"
While many turn of the century explorations were led by men, intrepid women were also looking to the top of the globe for adventures. Louise Arner Boyd, dubbed "the ice woman," inherited a fortune at 33 and used the profits to take repeated trips to the Arctic to photograph the harsh but beautiful landscape and study glaciers, fjords, and seas.
The Many Adventures of Louise Arner Boyd
In 1928, Boyd lead an expedition to find the missing Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen which led her to cross over 10,000 miles of Arctic Ocean - though she was in the end unsuccessful. Boyd led a series of geographic expeditions to Greenland beginning in the 1930s and discovered an underwater mountain ridge off the coast of Norway in 1938. After World War II, the US government chose Boyd for an expedition to study how the unique magnetic fields at the North Pole interfered with radio signals. In 1955, at 68 years old, Boyd made history by becoming the first woman to fly over the North Pole.