When was the world's first expedition to the North Pole?
When considering expeditions to
the North and South Poles, one often thinks about the dangers that such a trip
will entail and the extremely harsh temperatures and environments that will be
faced. An expedition to the North Pole is undoubtedly much safer than an
expedition to the South Pole, which has even more extreme temperatures and
conditions, but it is still a journey that should only be done by very
experienced individuals and one that can still end in fatality if not careful.
For these reasons, it is still quite uncommon to hear of people taking
expeditions to the North Pole. And when the North Pole was still something that
was an unknown mass, it was even more of a mystery and more of a danger. So, who
was the first? This question is one that has raised much controversy.
It’s believed that the first actual civilization to
reach the North Pole may have been the ancient Inuit Native Americans because
they had occupied the land for some time before anyone else. However, there is
no documentation of any of these trips and whether or not the Inuit people would
have travelled so far is debatable because this is quite far away from any
source of water and therefore, quite far from where they would have hunted and
Aside from the Inuit Native Americans, the next
person to actually claim credit to being the first to reach the North Pole was
Dr. Frederick Cook in 1908. Then in 1909, Admiral Robert E. Peary also made the
expedition and he also claimed to be the first to do it. So which one was it? It
came down to just the written documentation that each man had of their trip as
at that time, there really was no other way of knowing which was first. However,
official investigations were later held, one of which was ordered by the
Congress of the United States, and the official record is that Robert E. Peary
was the first person to complete a successful expedition to the North Pole.
However even though official records all seem to
indicate that Peary should receive credit, some argue that Cook was still the
first person to reach the North Pole. Other scientists argue that neither man
was actually the first and the story of Matthew Henson may confirm this theory,
if it’s believed to be true.
Matthew Henson claimed many years afterwards that
he was one of the crew members that accompanied Robert Peary on his expedition.
This is not surprising as the men had been taking arctic expeditions together
for some time. When Peary and his crew headed out to the North Pole they had
only enough supplies for one trip and the crew included Peary, Henson, and four
of the Inuit people.
Henson’s tale says that on April 6, 1909, he had
the compass and was leading the way for the explorers. The Inuit people were
quite a way behind him pulling a sled on which sat Robert Peary, for his feet
were frostbitten and he could no longer walk himself. When the conditions became
particularly bad and the compass stopped working, Henson says that he sat down
to wait to see what would happen with the compass and wait for the rest of his
team. Approximately 45 minutes later, the rest of the team showed up and they
decided that they would just settle in for the night. Once morning came, Henson
asked Peary to confirm their location and it turned out – they were already on
the North Pole, making Henson the first one there by at least 45 minutes! Henson
however, was an African American and so this is why he says he was never given
proper credit for the expedition.
So, who was the first to complete the expedition to the North Pole – Cook,
Henson, or Peary? We’ll never really know but the official records do still
state that it was Admiral Robert E. Peary.
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