Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
Robert Edwin Peary: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Robert Edwin Peary

EA-Biography
(William H. Hobbs)

ROBERT E(DWIN) PEARY

Rear Admiral Robert E(dwin) Peary (1856-1920), one of the greatest
of all explorers and the discoverer of the North Pole, was born in Wash–
ington (since 1893 Cresson) township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, May 6,
1856, the son of Charles Nutter and Mary (Wiley) Peary. When Robert was
three years of age his father died, and the widowed mother with her little
son went back to her former home state of Maine and took up her residence
in a little house at Cape Elizabeth, now included in the city of Portland.
There Peary grew to manhood. Very early he took an active interest in out–
door life and became a diligent student of natural history, particularly
ornithology. He became as a youth an expert taxidermist and made mounts for
sale, which added materially to the modest resources of the small household.
Of powerful physique, the young Peary was an expert shot, an excep–
tionally fine horseman who broke refractory horses to the saddle, and he
excelled in swimming, skating, and skiing. He thought nothing of walking
twenty-five miles, and once did thirty miles over country roads in eight
and a quarter hours. His apparent indifference to physical pain, which was
so marked a characteristic in later life, had early made its appearance.
After graduating from the Portland High School, he entered Bowdoin
College. Without the means to finance his college course, he won a scholar–
s hip and retained it throughout all four years. He was graduated in 1877

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E(dwin) Peary

with the degree of Civil Engineer, second in a class of fifty-two, but at
the top in engineering, in which field he had shown much originality and
resourcefulness.
Following his graduation from college, Peary set himself up as town
surveyor at Fryeburg in the Saco Valley of southwestern Maine. Two years
later he entered the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey as draftsman.
In 1881 an examination was held for positions in the Civil Engineer Corps
of the United States Navy. Of the two hundred applicants who took this
examination, Peary was one of four who were passed. He was commissioned
on October 26, 1881. A.G. Menocal, the distinguished engineer in charge
of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, had been on the Examining Board,
and he saw to it that Peary was made his assistant. While in this position
Peary was successful in completing a naval pier at Key West which had been
abandoned by the contractor as impractical. He next devised a method of
successfully operating by the tides the gates in the channel which connected
the Washington Navy Yard with the Potomac River.
Surveying for a proposed Nicaragua Canal
Peary had been looking forward to tropical exploration, and in the
fall of 1861 an opening was afforded him. His chief, A. G. Menocal, was loaned
by the United States Government to the Provincial Interoceanic Canal Society
to explore by surveys the route of a projected canal across the isthmus in
Nicaragua. Menocal at once chose Peary to be his principal assistant and
second-in-command. This expedition left New York in December 1884. The
surveys were throughout in tropical jungle, but were carried through with
complete success. Peary was the executive director throughout, and the
glowing praise of his chief appeared on many pages of the report. As a
result of these surveys, the length of the proposed canal as determined by

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert N. Peary

the surveys of the mid-seventies, was reduced by more than sixteen miles
and its estimated cost by seventeen million dollars. One of the principal
objections to the route had been the exceptional height of the locks which
would be required, and the consequent difficulty of operating them. This
was successfully overcome by a device for rolling lock gates which was
invented by Peary.
The collapse in 1895 of the private company which had financed the
Nicaraguan surveys interrupted, though it did not close, this phase of
Peary's career.
First Arctic Exploration
Already initiated in exploration, Peary's attention was directed to the
Arctic by a fugitive paper which he had read about the inland ice of Greenland,
In April 1886 by invitation he read a paper before the Academy of Natural
Sciences, in which he outlined a plan of his own for exploring the interior
of Greenland, then almost unknown. He considered alternate routes for crossing
the inland ice from the west coast; one from Disko Island in southwest Green–
land in a direction southeastward to the east coast; the other, much longer
and more difficult, from Whale Sound in extreme northwest Greenland in a
direction northeastward to the remote and then wholly unknown eastern coast.
A preliminary trip to determine technique and equipment was made in 1886.
This penetration of the interior was to be undertaken on foot and without dogs.
He designed a one-man sledge of the toboggan type modified from the Hudson's
Bay model, and fitted to carry a load of 200 pounds. His cooking lamp burned
alcohol as fuel, and this rather than kerosene he used in all his later
exploring.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

In May 1886, he sailed for West Greenland on the steam whaler Eagle ,
Captain Jackman, Master, from whom Peary now learned the technique of navi–
gating and maneuvering in sea and pack ice. He left the ship at Godhavn on
Disko Island, where he was able to engage as companion Christian Maigaard,
Assistant Manager at the nearby colony of Ritenbenk.
They set out on May 25. Crossing first deep crevasses in the glacier,
then over rivers and lakes of surface meltwater lightly frozen over, the two
men advanced in the teeth of strong head winds and fierce storms until they
had penetrated almost one hundred miles eastward from their starting point.
They had attained an elevation of 7,525 feet. Their rations now reduced to
those necessary for only six days, they turned back. With their sleds lashed
together catamaran fashion, and with sail raised to utilize the persistent
down-slope wind, the descent to the coast was made at breakneck speed.
On this trip, Peary had made a deeper penetration of the Greenland
interior than anyone before him, and had discovered, once the crevasses and
meltwater lakes had been passed, a truly "imperial highway" for the explorer.
Second Nicaraguan Expedition
In 1887, the year following Peary's return from his first arctic expe–
dition, the Nicaraguan Government granted a concession to a new isthmian
organization, the Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua. This company decided
upon a "new and final" survey of the Nicaraguan route. The veteran engineer,
A. G. Menocal, was placed in charge as Chief Engineer, and he again chose
Peary for his second-in-command with the title of Sub-Chief Engineer in entire
charge of surveys. Under Peary were forty-five engineers, with drillers and
chain men, and one hundred macheteros to clear paths through the jungle. This
large force passed through the strenuous seven months of the actual surveys

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

without a single death or serious illness. The surveys completed under Peary's
direction were gone over and approved by a board of eminent consulting en–
gineers, and they have been the basis of later surveys of that route.
Returned from Nicaragua, Peary was on October 10, 1888, assigned to
duty at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to superintend the completion of a dry dock.
With this finished, he was in 1889 transferred to Philadelphia to superintend
the construction of a timber dry dock, and in March, 1891, this dock had
been completed and tested. On August 11, 1888, Peary had been married to
Josephine Diebitsch, daughter of Professor Herman H. Diebitsch of the Smith–
sonian Institution in Washington.
First North Greenland Expedition
Peary's earlier plans for a transaction of Greenland were now again
taken up. The course which he had originally favored had been in South
Greenland near where his preliminary expedition had been made; but while
he had been in Nicaragua the great Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, had
accomplished a first crossing near this route. Peary was thus thrown back
upon his second choice, a transaction in far northern Greenland. Of that
part of the island almost nothing was known, but it was where the width of
the island ice was certain to be very much greater, and the climatic condi–
tions much more severe. Though sponsored by several scientific institutions
headed by the American Geographical Society in New York, yet the total money
contributions had been less than $10,000 when in June of 1891 the expedition
sailed from Brooklyn.
In addition to the seven members of the expedition, which included
Mrs. Peary, there were nine scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences
in Philadelphia. They were to return on the expedition vessel, the Kite ,
after the expedition had been landed in North Greenland. The expedition

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

members were Eivind Astrup, champion ski athlete from Norway, Dr. Frederick
A. Cock, later to become notorious as the world's greatest faker in the field
of exploration, John M Verhoeff, mineralogist, Langdon Gibson, ornithologist
and chief hunter, and Matthew A. Henson, Peary's colored servant who had been
with him in Nicaragua. In selecting the personnel Peary had initiated a
policy to which he adhered in all his later exploring. He chose men who
used neither tobacco nor spirits. Unlike most other arctic explorers, he
planned when on land to live off the game, except on the long sledging
expeditions over inland ice, when the more concentrated [: ] pemmican
had to be substituted. He had already devised a lamp to use alcohol fuel.
Time was thus saved, and efficiency rather than comfort was his aim.
Before the Kite had arrived at Peary's intended base, he met with a
serious accident. Beset in the pack ice of Melville Bay, the ship was back–
ing for a charge on the ice. Peary was leaning over the stern rail, when a
large floe struck the rudder and tore the heavy iron tiller out of the hands
of the two helmsmen, one of whom was thrown over it and across the deck.
The heavy bar then caught Peary's leg, jammed it against a wall and snapped
both bones above the ankle. Three weeks later at the Inglefield Gulf base,
the leader of the expedition had to be put ashore strapped to a plank, and
it was to be another five weeks before he could put foot to the ground.
Peary's first transection of North Greenland, a double one, was made
with a single companion, Eivind Astrup, and with but one advance depot of
food and fuel. It was a sledging journey of close to 1,200 miles over
inland ice throughout. For the first 130 miles two helpers were taken. To
attempt the crossing it had been necessary to reduce equipment and supplies
to an absolute minimum. The sledges Peary had had built on the McClintock
model with frame sides, and with their weight reduced by two-thirds. Neither
tent nor sleeping sack was taken. In Eskimo-style fur suits of reindeer skin

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

Peary and Astrup were able to sleep comfortably in air temperatures which
ranged from 40° F. to −60° F. "My couch," wrote Peary, "was the frozen
surface of the inland-ice and my canopy the blue sky." Of the twenty
Greenland dogs taken, eight survived the eastward crossing, and five the
entire journey.
Both as an accomplishment in sledging and because of its outstanding
geographical discoveries, this double crossing of North Greenland had been
generally regarded as one of the most remarkable journeys ever made. In
1897 the President of the Royal Geographical Society of England said of it;
"Lieut. Peary is, without exception, the greatest glacial traveller in the
world. He is also far and away the greatest dog-sledge traveller in the
world as regards rapidity and distance."
At the eastern end of his crossing, Peary on July 4, 1892, locked down
upon a great fjord which he named Independence Bay, with the cliff above which
he stood, Navy Cliff. Eastward he looked out over a land without snow cover,
but separated from him by a deep trench the bottom of which was hidden, but
which from its trend appeared to connect Independence Bay with a fjord on the
north coast. Subsequent surveys have shown that this "Peary Channel" is not
occupied by the sea throughout, but is a deep trench between the Greenland
inland ice and a large northeastern land now on the maps as Peary Land. The
distinguished Danish explorer, Dr. Lauge Koch, who has made the later surveys,
wrote in 1925: "I would emphasize the high quality of Peary's sketch map,
and the justification of his assumption of the insularity of the land he
discovered — land which now properly bears his name."
In 1892 Peary returned to the United States acclaimed as an outstanding
here of arctic exploration. Against the black disasters of the Jeannette and
Greely arctic expeditions, Americans could now point with pride to an out–
standing achievement by one of their own countrymen.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

Second North Greenland Expedition
The land discovered in northeast Greenland had appeared to be extensive,
and, so far as was known, it might stretch out to the Pole itself. On it
Peary had found musk-oxen, which promised a replenishment of food supplies.
It was at least hopeful as a possible route to the Pole.
Perhaps somewhat overstimulated by the ease with which the first cross–
ing had been made, Peary planned a new expedition, and this a polar one, which
involved unknown factors and which did violence to his then fundamental prin–
ciple that exploring parties should be kept small. He accepted a great hazard
when he made the decision to start out two months earlier than in 1892, for
there was at the time no experience to guide him in travel on the icecap so
early in the season.
To secure the necessary funds Peary delivered 165 lectures which netted
$13,000, and he took with him a body of scientists to make the ship voyage
and help out his finances. The expedition sailed in the Falcon , Captain Harry
Bartlett, Master, from Philadelphia, June 26, 1893. The base was established
on an arm of Inglefield Gulf, which Peary named Bowdoin Bay. A fairly large
building, Anniversary Lodge, was constructed to house the fourteen members of
the expedition, which again included Mrs. Peary and now a nurse, since a
child was expected. The precious oil supply Peary stored in casks placed
twenty feet above high-water mark, but most of this was lost when the calving
of a great iceberg from a nearby glacier shattered the ice of the bay and
sent a great wave almost to the door of the Lodge. It was a major disaster.
During the first week of March, Peary set out on an intended second cross–
ing to Independence Bay and beyond with a party of eight in air temperatures
which ranged between −30° F. and −60° F. In these low temperatures the men

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

Suffered severely, and the dogs contracted the incurable piblockto . Some
had to be shot and others were frozen to death as they slept. After a
penetration of only 128 miles the expedition had to return, some of the
party with frosted feet. The precious pemmican and fuel had been deposited
on the ice at the turning point, and its position there marked by bamboo
poles which projected nine feet above the surface.
It had been a terrible experience, and it is perhaps not to be wondered
at that, though the expedition had been planned for three years, all but two
of the assistants insisted that they return on the ship when it arrived in
1894. The two who agreed to remain were Hugh J. Lee and Matthew Henson.
Peary now planned for 1895 another attempt to cross the inland ice to
Independence Bay and, if game could be secured, to go on to the Pole. A new
depot of provisions, which was laid down between the base and the advance
depot and marked in the same way as the other, proved to have been buried
under drift snow so deeply that it could not be discovered. Peary found that
the main depot 128 miles out, with a ton and a half of the precious pemmican,
might also be buried and lost. It would be necessary to start out with the
heavier reindeer meat for the men and with walrus meat for the dogs, a very
heavy handicap. During the winter the necessary game was secured by hunting,
and this was laboriously processed into a poor substitute for pemmican.
The expedition of three men set out on April 1, 1895, a month later
than the disastrous one of 1894, but a month earlier than the successful one
of 1892. As Peary had feared, the main depot of pemmican and fuel, like the
lesser one, could not be found. Both had been buried under more than nine feet
of drift snow. Subsisting on insufficient rations and after being repeatedly
driven into their tent by fierce storms, in a famished condition, and with the
dogs unable longer to travel, they at last came in sight of the land near the

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

east coast. Lee was left in camp to feed the dying dogs to those that might
perhaps be saved, while Peary [: ] and Henson went ahead in the hope of securing
game. After much search a herd of musk-oxen was killed and the expedition
reprieved.
The return to the Lodge was throughout a march of starving men. On the
ninth day out Lee, who had been suffering from dysentery, gave out completely
and wanted Peary to go on without him. However, they camped and Peary through–
out one day dosed Lee with warm milk which contained beef peptonoids and
brandy, so that he was thereafter able to march more than twenty miles each day.
At long last all staggered into the Lodge in the last stages of starvation,
from which they were weeks in recovering. Late in August the Kite and the
expedition returned to the States.
Summer Expeditions of 1896 and 1897
As early as 1818, John Ross, the British explorer, had noticed in the
hands of the Smith Sound Eskimos knives made from meteoric iron, but they had
always refused to disclose its source to their white visitors. Because of
their warm friendship for Peary, they had in 1894 promised to lead him to the
place. During the winter of 1894-95, with Lee and an Eskimo guide, Peary
carried out a hazardous sledge trip to the locality, which proved to be on
an island near the coast of Melville Bay to the east of Cape York. On this
island, since named Meteorite Island, they found three nickel-iron meteorites,
the largest of about ninety tons' weight and, with one possible exception,
the largest in the world.
Two summer expeditions were carried out in 1896 and 1897 for the sole
purpose of recovering these extremely rare and valuable meteorites. Without
docks or cranes, and where the heavy pack made any stay of his little vessel

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

extremely precarious, the loading and transportation of these masses of
nickel-iron was an engineering feat of the first magnitude. During the
first attempt, carried out in 1896, the work was interrupted, and the little
Hope was forced to make a hasty retreat or be crushed in the ice. The second
expedition, of the summer of 1897, was completely successful, and the great
meteorite has since reposed at the main entrance to the American Museum of
Natural History in New York City.
In January 1897, the Cullom Gold Medal of the American Geographical
Society was awarded to peary for: 1) the delimitation of the before unknown
coast of Inglefield Gulf; 2) the delimitation of the then imperfectly known
coasts of whale and Murchison sounds; and 3) the determination of the rapid
convergence of the northern shores of Greenland north of the 78th parallel,
which established its insularity. There might well have been added a fourth,
for the discovery of the form of the Greenland inland ice, a much flattened
dome, and the constant presence above it of a fixed centrifugal system of
strong winds and outward drifting snow, something which was not then known
anywhere in the world. The outblowing fierce winds of the inland ice extended
far outside its borders, and at times had velocities of one hundred and more
miles per hour.
In 1898 Peary visited England to be awarded the much prized Patron's Gold
Medal by the Royal Geographical Society of London.
The Four-year Arctic Expedition of 1898 to 1902
The expedition of 1895 had pretty effectively shown the impracticability
of attaining the Pole by first crossing the inland ice of Greenland. Of
possible American approaches there was left only the Grant Land coast (northern
Ellesmere Island) to the west, separated from Greenland by Kennedy and Robeson

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

channels. That coast was four hundred miles nearer the Pole than any
base Peary had yet used, but between lay the channels, which in all but
exceptional seasons were so frozen as to be impassable for ships. His plan
now underwent a complete change. He determined to have constructed a ship
of special design, strong enough either to resist or evade ice pressures,
and with engines powerful enough to force a way through the frozen straits.
The opposition of the Navy Department to granting the necessary five–
year furlough for another arctic expedition was at last overcome. A group
of wealthy New York businessmen formed an organization under the name the
Peary Arctic Cluby of which each member agreed to contribute a thousand
dollars a year for each of five years, or until Peary had reached the Pole.
They planned also to dispatch a ship to him in each year of his stay.
Peary left for the Arctic in July of 1898 on what proved to be a
four-year expedition, but without the special vessel which could force the
frozen straits. Lord Northcliffe had given him the former expedition ship
Windward , and had promised to have her re-engined, but because of a strike
this could not be carried out. She went to the Arctic essentially a sailing
vessel. When near Cape D'Urville on the west shore of Kane Basin, the
Windward was caught and imprisoned behind a gigantic ice floe and compelled
to winter there. Peary's base for the years 1898-1899 was thus less than
one hundred miles farther north than on his earlier expeditions, and for
the years 1900-1902 it was at Etah, Greenland, near the latitude of his
old base.
In this impasse Peary fixed upon Fort Conger, 250 miles up the straits
(on west side of Hall Basin, northof Kennedy Channel) as his advance base.
This would mean that many tons of provisions would have to be transported
by dog sled over the rough icefoot of the passages that separate Greenland

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

from Ellesmere Island, an apparently impracticable undertaking.
During the weeks before the ice would permit of sledging, Peary
explored the unknown shores of Princess Marie Bay and Buchanan Sound to
the west of Kane Basin. On a later trip in reconnaissance he pushed still
farther west and discovered Cannon Bay and lands beyond, which he named
Jesup and Arthur Lands. These were a year later surveyed by the Norwegian
explorer Otto Sverdrup, who gave to the distant land the name Axel Heiberg
Land, and this had taken the place of Jesup Land on the maps.
Because of the condition of the ice, the sledging of the supplies to
Fort Conger, which had been the base of the Greely expedition fifteen years
before, had to be done in the arctic winter during the hours of moonlight.
Way stations were set up with snow iglus for relay depots. With the waning
of the November moon a tone and a half of supplies had already been cached
at Cape Wilkes, about a third of the way to Conger. In his always restrained
language Peary wrote: "No one who has not had the actual experience can
imagine the work or annoyances involved in transporting, in semi or complete
darkness, these supplies along the frightful icefoot which everywhere lines
the ragged Grinnell Land coast."
The December journey, made in intense cold and in part in winter darkness,
came near to ending Peary's career. Groping his way with worn-out Eskimo
helpers and their dogs, and with badly frosted toes, Peary at midnight stumbled
through the dilapidated door of the abandoned fort. Both Peary's feet were
found to be badly frosted, and it was clear that he must lose parts or all
of his toes. The house at Conger, it was found, had been left by the Greely
expedition in the utmost confusion, and the great supplies of food and in–
struments had spoiled because left exposed to the weather.
For six dreary weeks Peary lay upon his back racked with pain from his

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

frozen feet. Refusing to despair, he wrote on the wall above his rude
cot his mottos, "I shall find a way or make one."
In midwinter he had himself lashed on a sled and, not without many
upsets, was dragged the 250 miles to the ship in temperatures which ranged
from −56° to −65° F. On March 13th all of his toes but the two little ones
were amputated Even before the stumps had healed, the work of forwarding
supplies to Conger had been resumed. On April 19th with seven sledges,
Peary riding, he started for Conger and completed the journey in ten days.
This averaged twenty-five geographical miles per day. In the neighborhood
of the fort musk-oxen were killed in numbers.
It was while his toe stumps were but partly healed that Peary made the
gruelling reconnaissance trip on which he discovered Jesup Land. On the
return, with the sea ice now melted, he was compelled to wade long distances
in the icy water breast deep, a grim experience. Soon after his return, with
light loads Peary drove to Conger in six days, forty-one and two-thirds
miles per day.
During this year filled with such harrowing experiences, Peary had made
an authentic map of the large fjord region west of Kane Basin, had crossed
the Ellesmere Land icecap to its west side and discovered Jesup Land, had
sledged no less than fourteen tons of provisions to the depots on the way to
his Conger base, had brought out the instruments and original records of the
Greely expedition, and had established his new advance base at Conger.
In early August the Diana , sent by the Peary Arctic Club, arrived at
Etah with Herbert L. Bridgman, the Club's secretary, on board. Bridgman
strongly urged Peary, because of the condition of his toes, to go back to
the ship. The reply was, "When my furlough has expired or I have reached
the Pole I shall be ready to go." During the three seasons that remained

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

of the furlough, Peary was to surpass all his earlier sledging records and
to raise his country's flag in new far advanced positions.
On April 11, 1900, he set out from Conger on a sledge trip along the
Greenland north coast, then explored only as far as Lockwood Island, in lati–
tude 83° 24′ N. This journey had to be made over the rough icefoot or on
thinly frozen sea, and at times over the rugged coast itself.
Through securing musk-oxen at several points to augment his food supply,
Peary was able to push beyond Lockwood's farthest, a distance of more than one
hundred and fifty miles. More than one hundred of these were beyond the northern–
most point of Greenland in latitude 83° 40′, which, Peary named Cape Morris
Jesup, after his great sponsor. From this northern land tip he pushed out
northward over the rough sea ice to a new "Farthest North" of 83° 50′. His
farthest point on the Greenland east coast he named Cape Clarence Wyckoff,
and from it looking due west he saw and recognized a dominant peak which he
had seen from the south in 1895, and had then named Mount Wistar. Since the
coast near Cape Clarence Wyckoff had trended south, this indicated pretty
clearly the insularity of Greenland, though the gap between the two traverses
was not to be actually closed for another seven years, when the Danish explorer
J. P. Koch sledged northward on the east coast and revisited Peary's cairns.
This North Greenland expedition of Peary had clearly indicated that any
practical route to the Pole must lie in the other direction, from the north
coast of Grant Land.
Returned to Conger, Peary found that his supporting party of Eskimos
since their arrival had secured thirty-three musk-oxen and ten seals, all in
the vicinity of the fort. During the months of July and August sixty more
musk-oxen were secured in the area farther west around Lake Hazen; and during
the autumn months, over one hundred more were killed.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

In the first week of April 1901, Peary set out from Conger for the north,
but after reaching Lincoln Bay it was found that the conditions of the men and
dogs precluded any serious attempt upon the Pole at that time. He therefore
returned to Conger and from there to the Windward at Payer Harbor (Cape Sabine),
which was reached on May 6th.
In July the Windward was freed from the ice, and upon the arrival of
the Erik , sent by the Peary Arctic Club, the two vessels started south after
depositing Peary and his party at Cape Sabine, Greely's starvation camp. It
was here that Peary wintered comfortably after securing musk-oxen and caribou
in the area to the west. The winter was spent in sledging supplies to Conger.
On one of these journeys Peary covered the three hundred miles in twelve marches,
an average of twenty-five nautical miles per day.
The assault upon the Pole planned for 1902 had to start from Payer Harbor
during the first week in March with the heavy meat four times the weight of
pemmican. This proved to be another harrowing experience due to the rough
ice and the fierce storms encountered. The sledges got away from Conger on
March 24th. The coast was followed to Cape Hecla, beyond the Alert's winter
quarters of 1875-76. At Cape Hecla Peary left the land on April 6th and started
northward across the rough sea ice toward the Pole. The party had already been
out a full month and had sledged no less than 400 miles over the roughest of
ice surfaces. On the 12th they were stormbound. From now on they were often
deflected westward by open water before arriving at the "Big Lead." Here the
last supporting party returned, leaving Peary, Henson, and two Eskimos in the
"permanent" party. The lead froze over on April 14th, and they hurried across.
Past smaller leads they continued to struggle on until the 21st, when they were
stopped in latitude 84° 17′ N. by still more rugged ice. Peary now turned back
and in some despair he wrote in his journal, "The game is off . . . I have made

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

the best fight I knew. I believe it has been a good one. But I cannot
accomplish the impossible."
The return was not made without great difficulties. At the northern–
most of the leads the outward track had disappeared under a huge pressure
ridge 75 to 100 feet in height. At the site of the "Big Lead" the trail
was also covered, and when again discovered it had been faulted. After being
stormbound, the land was reached after long and weary marches made without
sleep. On May 17th Cape Sabine was reached after eleven marches from Conger
which had averaged 27 1/4 miles. On August 15th the Windward arrived at
Payer Harbor, and shortly after sailed for the south with Peary. Thus ended
a four-years' stay in the Arctic with two major expeditions accomplished in
1900 and 1902.
In 1903, the Livingston Gold Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical
Society, and the Gold Medal of the Soci e é t e é de G e é ographie of Paris, were
awarded to Peary.
Seventh Expedition
Peary's seventh arctic expedition set out in July 1905. For the first
time he went out with a powerful ship of his own design which he hoped would
be able to force its way through the ice-choked Kennedy and Robeson channels,
and so permit him to launch his assault from an advanced base four hundred
miles nearer the Pole than on any of his earlier expeditions. This ship,
which he named the Roosevelt , was an improvement upon Nansen's Fram, which
was a sailing ship provided with auxiliary steam power, and with a wedge-shaped
hull which under the crushing ice pressures would be squeezed up and leave the
ship resting on the ice. Unlike the Fram, however, the Roosevelt was a very
powerful steam vessel with auxiliary sails, and its engine was provided with

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

a "by-pass" which, by turning a valve, permitted the steam from all of the
boilers to be turned into the big low-pressure cylinder, more than doubling
the power for as long as the boilers could meet this demand. This by-pass
was used in charges upon the pack ice, and in extricating the vessel from
particularly dangerous situations. The propeller blades were quickly de–
tachable, and the rudder could be drawn up out of dangerous pressures.
The skipper of the ship was Robert A. (Bob) Bartlett, a seasoned New–
foundland sealing captain destined to achieve fame as Peary's great lieuten–
and on this and the next wholly successful expedition. Professor Ross G.
Marvin went as Peary's principal assistant, and Matt Henson, expert sledger,
was again with Peary.
An additional coal supply was dispatched in advance on the Erik . On
the way north the Almy water-tube boilers of the Roosevelt were found to be
leaking badly, so that only the Scotch boilers could be used, which reduced
the ship's power by half. Yet with this heavy handicap the ship was able to
make its arduous way through the ice-filled channels and at long last land
the expedition at Cape Sheridan on the north Grant Land coast of Ellesmere
Island.
Along the shores of Smith Sound stops had been made to recruit Eskimos
and their dogs, until fifty Eskimos and about two hundred dogs had been added
to the expedition. Then the battle royal with the ice of the channels began
as the ship attempted to force her way through.
On September 5th the Roosevelt was at long last berthed behind a big
floe at Cape Sheridan on the north coast of Grand Land in latitude 82° 47′ N.,
near Floeberg Beach, where Nare's Alert had passed the winter of 1875-76.
This base was more than four hundred miles nearer the Pole than that of any
of Peary's earlier expeditions. His strategy had been successful. Inasmuch,

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

however, as the shifting floes might at any moment place the ship in imminent
peril, the supplies were put on shore as enclosed walls roofed over with a
spanker sail to be used as a possible retreat for the expedition
To feed the 200 dogs some tons of whale meat had been a part of the
Roosevelt's cargo, but already in October a fatal disease broke out among
the dogs, and before the cause had been discovered to be the whale meat, no
less than eighty had died. To feed his party of sixty, game had been depended
on, and hundreds of musk-oxen and reindeer (caribou) were slaughtered. This
resh meat had now also to be used for the dogs, and on it they thrived.
The winter proved to be one marked by fierce blizzards off the Grinnell
Land icecap, which lay to the southward; and these storms increased greatly in
violence as the season advanced. During the full moons hunting continued,
especially at an Eskimo camp near Lake Hazen, and the meat was sledged to
the ship.
The direct assault upon the Pole had been planned to start at Cape Moss,
about forty-five miles northwestward along the coast from the ship, where
supplies had been sledged there during the winter moons. During the first
week of March 1906, a pioneering unit under Bartlett had been followed out
on the sea ice by other freighting sledge units, with Peary's own unit at the
rear leaving the Cape on March 6th.
The sea ice was found to be heavily rafted and considerable shifting
of the floes was going on. On the 8th a floe on which supplies had been de–
posited was discovered shifted more than a mile to the eastward. On the 15th
Peary's sledge division caught up with the advance parties which had been
hewing the trail through the rough ice. On the 21st storms faulted the pack,
leads of water opened, with the floes on the north side moving eastward. Air
temperatures were so low that the kerosene fuel remained white and viscid.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

On the 26th Peary again caught up with the advance units stalled before
the "Big Lead" of open water. Here in latitude 84° 38′ N. the expedition
was held for six days until the lead had been frozen over enough for
crossing with reduced loads and double banking.
Henson's unit was now sent ahead, but was overtaken by Peary's after
three marches, and here in latitude 85° 12′ all were kept in camp during a
six-day gale. When the storm had ended a sun observation showed that their
camp had been moved seventy miles to the eastward, so that it was now in
about the longitude of the ship. From this position Eskimos with empty
sledges were sent back to meet parties at the rear, but were soon back to
report a new and quite impassable lead that had opened halfway back to their
probable position.
These unexpected adverse conditions indicated a breakdown of Peary's
supporting party system, and in this impasse, in despite of his insufficient
supplies, he decided upon a dash northward by his and Henson's divisions —
seven men and six teams, all with half-loads.
All the unnecessary equipment was cached at this "storm camp," a new
but shifting advance base. The going now improved considerably. As dogs
gave out they were fed to the others. Forced marches were made with little
sleep, and on April 21st, 1906, a new Farthest North of 87° 6′ N. was reached,
thirty-two miles beyond Cagni's farthest. It was the utmost that was possible.
Even with his ship base four hundred miles nearer the Pole than he had ever
had it before, Peary had been able to sledge only 420 of the 620 geographical
miles to the Pole. "I felt," he wrote, "that the mere beating of the record
was but an empty bauble compared with the splendid jewel on which I had
set my heart for years, and for which, on this expedition, I had almost
literally been straining my heart out."

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

The return was started in drifting snow which cut into the face like
needles. After the first march all stumbled into the camp thoroughly done
in. Here they got a little sleep, the last for many days, but at long last
"Storm Camp" was reached in a howling blizzard with everyone thoroughly ex–
hausted. Here they remained twenty-four hours while the storm howled out–
side. Though the compass course had been held southward, Peary knew that
the camp had continued to shift eastward and was now probably somewhere
north of the Greenland coast, as his later sun observation proved.
Disappointed by not finding at "Storm Camp" the much needed food, Peary
decided to launch out on a direct course to the Greenland coast. His Eskimos,
and later those of Clark's division, were all obsessed with the idea that
the shift of the ice had been westward instead of eastward, and save for the
sun observations of their leaders, they must all have been hopelessly lost.
It was now to be a race for life. Where the "Big Lead" had been Peary
now encountered an indescribable chaos of broken and rafted ice. Climbing to
its top, he looked out southward over a broad black band of open water which
blocked any further retreat. After waiting two days, an attempt was made to
cross over a thinly formed ice cover, but they soon encountered open slush
and scrambled back in some peril of life. Five days later with sleds widely
separately another attempt was made over an undulating ice bridge. This
perilous crossing accomplished, as they were unfastening their snowshoes,
the bridge behind them parted and a new open lead began to form.
There was more almost impassable ice and yet other open leads to be
passed, but on May 12 the starving men were just able to drag themselves up
onto the Greenland coast. There within an hour they killed and bolted four
large arctic hares. Just before attaining the land they had run into Clark's
sledge division in an equally famished condition, so that the four already

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

starving men had their number increased to seven.
They now set out westward along the Greenland coast in the direction
of the ship, living on the emaciated dogs until in Nares Land seven musk–
oxen were killed, the party saved, and they pushed on to the ship. Thus
ended without the loss of a man one of the most remarkable journeys in all
polar history; but it was to be followed by another, equally remarkable,
before the return of this, Peary's seventh arctic expedition.
While painfully marching toward the Roosevelt , Peary had been planning
the details of an exploration of the unknown coast of Grant Land west of
Aldrich's farthest made in 1876. It would be a double sledge journey of
at least six hundred miles over the worst terrane to be found in the Arctic,
and the season was already late to attempt it. Moreover, Peary, Henson, and
Clark had swollen feet and legs from the late attempt on the Pole, accompanied
by lowered vitality, soreness, and shortness of breath. Peary would have to
leave two months later than Aldrich had done, and sledge at least 150 miles
farther, but Aldrich on his return had had to wade through rivers and lakes
of ice water. To account for Peary's decision to attempt such a journey, one
must take account of his desire to offset the bitter defeat of the polar
assault by an outstanding achievement which would be everywhere recognized.
Such recognition would be essential if he were to secure the furlough and
the financial support for another attempt upon the Pole.
On June 2nd, only a week after his return and while still in a much
Weekened condition, Peary set out with three Eskimos, six sledges and thirty–
nine dogs. He was back at the ship on July 26th, having accomplished all
that he had set out to do. He had explored throughout and mapped the unknown
coast and crossed the fjord beyond to Cape Thomas Hubbard.
The second transection of North Greenland, the polar attempt of this
year, and this exploration of the Grant Land coast, rank as the three most

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

difficult journeys of Peary's exploring career. At critical times the party
was saved by finding game, but on the return in the late spring it had been
necessary to wade breat-deep through lakes and rivers on the ice, and to lie
down between marches in shallow slush or icy water. Under this treatment
the clothing, and especially the footgear, rotted and fell apart. Tin cans,
flattened out, had to replace the rotten kamiks for traveling over rough
beach pebbles.
The Roosevelt had broken out of her berth at Cape Sheridan, had squeezed
down along the shore and, after passing Cape Union, had smashed against the
icefoot, tearing another blade from her propeller and breaking off her ste r n–
post and rudder. The day after his return Peary came down to Bartlett and
said: "We have got to get her back, Captain. We are going to come again
next year."
The return voyage of the damaged vessel through the ice-choked Robeson
and Kennedy channels, with hastily made repairs, and when free of the channels
through storm after storm, much of the time without coal for the engines, i [: ] one
of the classics of the sea. From Cape Sheridan in Grant Land until New York
harbor had been entered on Christmas Eve, not a day had been without peril to
the ship. "As the chain rattled over the side," writes Bartle ss tt , "Peary turned
and silently gripped my hand. We were too numb from all our experiences to
appreciate our escape." Expert skippers who visited the Roosevelt in the dry
dock found it difficult to believe that a ship in that condition could have
survived the voyage.
For his outstanding work on this his seventh arctic expedition, the
National Geographic Society awarded Peary the Hubbard Gold Medal, its first
award, and it was handed to him by the President of the United States, Theadore
Roosevelt. In the same year of 1907 he was elected President of the Explorers
Club of New York, of which all the world's explorers of note are members.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

The Peary Arctic Club again resolved unanimously to stand behind
Peary, and to provide for a final attempt upon the Pole by having [: ] the
Roosevelt refitted, the defective boilers replaced, and, further, to finance
Peary's eighth and final arctic expedition.
Peary himself was now confident that with the experience gained he
would at last succeed; in fact, had the winter been characterized by dominant
northerly winds, as it had when the Nares Expedition had wintered in Grant
Land, he believed that the sea ice would have been in such condition that he
could have made the Pole in 1906. That expedition had been made when he was
already fifty years of age, older than most explorers who have gone into the
Arctic for arduous exploration, and he realized that the last year had taken
a terrible toll of his physical powers. This time the rear base of his expe–
dition was to be established north of the treacherous "Big Lead," so that
only when supplies had been delivered to the forward units would the support–
ing parties be sent back to the land base and so eliminated from the responsi–
bilities of the leader. When traveling together all food and fuel we [: ] s to be
sent back to the land base and so eliminated from the responsibilites of the
leader. When traveling together all food and fuel were to be taken from one
of the sledge units, and only when just enough was left to enable it to reach
the land would it be sent back with the least efficient of drivers and dogs.
As the dogs would be going home, they would travel in half the time needed for
the advance, and in any emergency some of these dogs could be used for food,
since they would no longer be needed.
To state the plan more in detail there were to be four of the supporting
parties, each made up of several sledges, one sledge to be driven by Henson,
the others by Eskimo drivers. Supporting parties would be in charge of one of
Peary's lieutenants and would leave at intervals of five marches. Where shifts
of the trail had occurred, it was to be their duty to knit the several ends together

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

before they had become too widely separated. This would make the return
easier for the later parties on the longer back trails. To provide, however,
against excessive shifts of the floes, such as had occurred in 1906, the
leaders who made earlier returns to the ship were later to lay down food
depots on the Greenland coast eastward as far as Cape Morris Jesup, and on
the Grant Land coast [: ] westward as far as Cape Fanshaw Martin in longitude
80° W.
The replacement of the Almy boilers of the Roosevelt had been promised
by July 1st, 1907, but they were not ready until September, far too late to
get away that season. This was a bitter disappointment for Peary, who would
be still another year older. Then came the heavy calamity of the death of
his friend and backer, Morris K. Jesup. Could Peary at the time have foreseen
the relation of this extra year's delay to the schemes of Dr. Frederick A. Cook,
it would have been recognized as an adverse stroke of fate such as had not yet
been met with in his career.
Eighth Expedition
On the 6th of July 1908, when the Roosevelt was to leave her pier in New
York to sail northward on Peary's eighth and completely successful polar expe–
dition, President Theodore Roosevelt came aboard for a last farewell. The
Roosevelt again had that great skipper, Captain Bob Bartlett, who had played
so large a part in bringing the ship back in 1906. The active personnel, in–
clusive of the crew, was twenty-two men. Chief expedition assistant was
Professor Ross G. Marvin of Cornell University, who proved a most loyal and
valued companion but was destined never to return. Two other new members of
the staff were Donald B. MacMillan of Worcester, Massachusetts High School,
and George Borup, a Yale undergraduate and athlete. Matt Henson, now a veteran,

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

was again with the expedition, and the surgeon was Dr. J. W. Goodsell.
Bartlett, Marvin, Borup, MacMillan, and Goodsell were all to command sup–
porting parties, the surgeon the earliest and shortest one.
The navigation of the channels was in the main a little easier than
in 1905, by reason of the more adequate battery of boilers, but it had its
moments of peril, as on August 30th, in the northern end of the Robeson
Channel, where the ship was kicked about as though it had been a big football.
A thousand-ton berg to which the ship had been moored had been literally picked
up by a big floe and had been dashed against the ship's side, fortunately a
glancing blow. This floe collided with another just aft, and the ship was
squeezed out between them "like a greased pig." The Roosevelt made its old
winter quarters at Cape Sheridan on September 5th.
Here the sledges, which had been under construction by Henson and the
Eskimos during the journey from Etah, were completed, many of them of the
superior new Peary type. Such sledges had teams of eight dogs each, and
usually started out with loads of about 700 pounds. The dogs were attached
fanwise. None of the heavy meat was to be taken on the sledges, but only the
four-times-lighter pemmican. At the base, however, the food was game obtained
"off the land," and hunting parties were camped in the Lake Hazen region from
which they sledged the meat to the ship during full moons. Still others sledged
the supplies intended for the polar parties to the advanced land base at Cape
Columbia, ninety miles from the ship.
No sooner had the winter set in than a deadly disease appeared among the
dogs. Of the original 246 only 193 were alive on November 9th and only 160
on the 26th. The whale meat appeared not to be sufficiently nutritious.
After experimentation the walrus meat was found the best and the still ailing
dogs recovered on this diet. As winter wore on, an even more serious situation

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

developed when the time approached to set out for the Pole Some of the
Eskimos vividly remembered their experiences on the 1906 expedition, and
disaffection appeared among them which Peary had much difficulty in over–
coming, great as was their faith in him.
The Pole expedition made its start when on February 15th, 1909, Bartlett
set out from Cape Columbia in charge of an advance division to pioneer the
trail, followed a few days later by supporting divisions with heavily laden
sledges. Peary left the ship on the 22nd, when there was already light
enough to travel without a lantern, and reached Cape Columbia in extreme low
air temperatures.
On the morning of February 28th, Bartlett's unit set out and Borup's a
little later. Peary and the other units got away the next day, Peary's place,
like a general's, at the rear to see whether his system was working properly.
Bartlett, in charge of the pioneer division, was to hold his advance down to
ten miles a day while in the rough near-shore area. The second dayout a lead
a quarter of a mile in width opened where Bartlett had passed the day before.
Camp was made and snow iglus constructed. The next morning early the sound of
the ice from the two sides crashing together brought the assurance that the
lead was closing, and Peary rushed the sledges across over dangerously moving
rafter ice. On the north side the trail was found offset a mile and a half to
the west. Borup, returning for a fresh load and with instructions to connect
with Peary, had gone astray. With an empty sled and an expert Eskimo trail–
finder, Marvin was sent back to find him, and his and Borup's units came
together at Cape Columbia. After taking on loads they started out together
to join Peary, only to be stopped by a new loead with the ice on the north side
drifting west. Here in torturing anxiety and with Eskimos threatening to go

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

back, they now were held four days until the lead was closed and they met
two Eskimos with a note from Peary to advance with all possible speed. The
Eskimos supplied also the valuable information that the broken trail could
be picked up a mile to the west. On the 11th, in good weather, they made a
double march, and another double one on the 12th. At Peary's fourth camp
they found a note dated the 11th: "Have waited here (6) days. Can wait no
longer . . . Do not camp here . CROSS THE LEAD . . . It is vital you overtake
us and give us fuel . . . . . Peary
P.S. On possibility you arrive too late to follow us, have asked
Captain to take general material from your bags."
At this camp in a temperature of −53° F. Borup had frozen one of his
heels, but they made an eighteen-hour march and crossed another big lead,
fortunately already frozen over. All were tired out, but when they asked for
an Eskimo to volunteer for carrying a note to Peary, Seegloo responded at once.
On top of two forced marches, one of them of eighteen hours, and after only
four hours' sleep, he made another double march and reached Peary the next
evening. It was a classic of dog-sled travel, and Seegloo was thereupon
selected by Peary for the polar dash.
The next day the division of Marvin and Borup came in. At this camp,
the first returning pary, with the poorest of the dogs, was sent back under
Dr. Goodsell, and the next day MacMillan, who had a badly frosted heel, was
dispatched to join him. From here the advancing divisions on March 15th com–
prised sixteen men and twelve sledges, all with standard loads of 650 pounds
and drawn by one hundred dogs in all.
Late in the afternoon loud rumblings and reports indicated the proximity
of leads, and soon they came to open water. A crossing was effected only by
getting the sleds first on one ice cake and then on another. During this

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

perilous work a serious accident was averted by Borup. His dogs [: ] lipped
and went into icy water. Athlete as he was, he held back the sledge and
then one by one pulled the dogs out of their traces.
Soon another lead was encountered and camp was made. All night long
the loud complainings of the ice continued, but on the morning of the 16th
a crossing was made. For the next two days Henson, who had been pioneering,
had made little advance, and he was replaced by Marvin, who the next day
accomplished an advance of seventeen miles, which party made up for the last
two short ones.
Here on March 20th in latitude 85° 23′ N. the next returning party was
sent back under Borup with three Eskimos, one sled, and sixteen of the poorest
dogs. The remaining units were reorganized so that each division had three
men instead of four. It was now continuous daylight, so that the pioneer
party could leave twelve hours in advance and vacate its iglus for the
following unit. Up to now, also, latitudes had been based on dead reckoning,
but for the first time the sun was high enough for sextant measurements.
With the picked men and better dogs, Longer marches were made in air temperatures as i
high as −40° or −30° F. The nature of the ice surface was also improving con–
siderably. On the 25th a march of more than twenty miles carried the expedi–
tion beyond Cagni's farthest north of 1901. Marvin's sun observation showed
a latitude of 86° 38′ N.
From this camp Marvin started back in command of the next to the last
supporting party, with two Eskimos, one sledge, and seventeen dogs. On April
17th the two Eskimos reached the ship without Marvin and with the story that
on April 10th Marvin had broken through the ice and been drowned while crossing
the "Big Lead," This was an entirely plausible story and has been believed
by all the members of the expedition. His loss, the only one of the expedition,
was to be a great blow to Peary.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

After the departure of Marvin's unit, the daily marches were bettered
with the smaller party, the picked dogs, and the increased rations. Peary's
new supporting party system was working out to perfection. Until Bartlett
started back on March 28th, the five marches averaged 15.8 nautical miles.
On that day Peary passed his 1906 record of 87° 6′ N. and camped close to
Bartlett's advance unit. As Peary was drowsing off, yelling was heard out–
side. A new lead had formed which passed within inches of the fastening of
one of Peary's dog teams, and another team was nearly buried under the
raftering ice. Bartlett's iglu was seen moving off in the lead on a loose
ice cake, and Peary's own iglu was already separated by a crack and in danger
of floating off. Peary shouted to Bartlett to harness the dogs and be ready
to jump "ashore" at the first opportunity. Peary with a pickaxe cleared
a way off his floe and soon was able to help Bartlett rush his sledged off
his raft.
The next day the expedition was halted by a lead so wide that the
farther side could not be seen, but it closed during the following night
and they crossed the next morning. During the next day a lake six or seven
miles wide was crossed on ice so thin that it buckled under the sledges.
On April 1st they reached the latitude of 87° 46′ 49′ N. and Bartlett
set off in command of the last supporting party, which was made up of two
Eskimos, one sled, and eighteen dogs. He had reached a higher latitude than
anyone except the polar party.
Peary was now left with five men — Henson and the Eskimos, Ootah,
Egingwah, Seegloo, and Ookeah — and five sleds. His forty dogs were nearly
all king dogs and the pick of the entire Eskimo tribe. They had been spared
the harder work for just this occasion and ha[: d] been fully rationed, as he had
nearly twice the food actually needed. Each sled in place of the standard

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

load of 700 pounds started out with only 500, and this was daily diminish–
ing as they advanced.
The Dash to the Pole
From Bartlett's farthest at latitude 87° 47′ N. the dash to the Pole
was strennous but comparatively uneventful. Peary believed that he could
make the Pole in five marches, and he did just that. He arrived at ten
o′ clock on the morning of the 6th of April. Camp was made and given the name
Morris K. Jesup in honor of the late President of the Peary Arctic Club.
The first sun observation was made at noon with such corrections only
as were possible at the time. It was 89° 57′ N., only three nautical miles
from the Pole. (As later corrected by the experts, the position was 89° 55′
22′.) This observation over, Peary turned in for a few hours of sleep. On
rising he wrote in his diary: "The Pole at last. The prize of three centuries.
My dream and goal for twenty years. Mine at last . . . It all seems so
simple and commonplace."
Again some sleep and Peary turned out for a six o′ clock evening obser–
vation, Columbia meridian time, but the sky was overcast, so with two
Eskimos driving a double team of dogs, he went on an estimated ten miles.
Meantime the sky had cleared and from the new position a midnight observation
was taken, which showed he had gone beyond the Pole. Returned to Camp Jesup,
a 6 o′ clock observation was taken there the morning of the 7th, others eight
miles north, and still others at noon at Camp Jesup.
In Peary's narrative concerning the return he says: "Before we hit the
trail I had a brief talk with the men of the party and made them understand
that it was essential that we should reach the land before the next spring
tides...My plan was to make double marches on the entire return journey; that

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

is to say, to start out, cover one northward march, make tea and eat luncheon,
then cover another march, then sleep a few hours, and push on again. As a
matter of fact, we did not fall much short of accomplishing this program.
To be accurate, day in and day out we covered five northward marches in
three return marches. Every day on the return lessened the chances of the
trail being destroyed by high winds shifting the ice."
Before midnight of April 22nd the last sledge rested safely on the
firm ice of the glacial fringe off Cape Columbia. The Eskimos, relieved at
last of their fear of the sea ice, yelled and called and danced until they
fell down exhausted. Said Ootsh, "The Devil is asleep or having trouble with
his wife, or we should never have come back so easily."
On April 23rd, at six in the morning, Peary's weary party was at Cape
Columbia, sixteen marches only from the Pole. In two additional marches the
ninety-mile journey to the ship was covered, so that the return to igh the
ship from the Pole had been made in eighteen etapes.
The Return
The Roosevelt was released from her berth on July 18th, 1909, and
with better ice conditions in the Robeson and Kennedy channels, she was able
to accomplish the return voyage without noteworthy incident. Before reaching
Etah on the Greenland coast, Peary had learned from the Eskimos that Dr.
Cook had been there and had claimed to have reached the Pole on April 18,
1908, which, if true, would have made him its discoverer. Every member of
Peary's party interviewed separately the two Eskimos who had been Cook's
companions on his alleged polar journey, and by Peary's instructions each sat
down the Eskimo statements in writing. These, when compared, agreed in showing
that Cook had first reached Cape Thomas Hubbard in Axel Heiberg Land, from

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

which point they traveled northward on the sea ice two "sleeps" only before
turning back. This farthest north of Cook was 508 miles from the Pole.
When the ship had reached Battle Harbor in Labrador, it was met by a
body of news correspondents [] who reported to Pea r y the great acclaim which
Cook was then receiving in Copenhagen as the discoverer of the North Pole.
To the correspondents Peary, with little appreciation of mass psychology,
gave out the wholly inadequate statement: "Cook's story shouldn't be taken
too seriously. Two Eskimos who accompanied him say he went no distance
north and not out of sight of land. Other tribesmen corroborate." A more
definite statement he sent to the New York Times: "He has not been to the
Pole on April 21st, 1908, or at any other time. He has simply handed the
public a gold brick. These statements are made advisedly and I have proof
of them."
The public generally believed the plausible Cook, and not until more
than four months later when the Consistory in Copenhagen after examining Cook's
polar records, had declared them worthless, did Peary receive a part of the
acclaim that was his due. Every geographical society of the world then awarded
him its gold medal for the discovery of the Pole. The Congress of the United
States extended to him a vote of thanks, and he was advanced to the rank of
Rear Admiral in the Civil Engineers Corps of the United States Navy.
The distrust of his countrymen during the brief period of Cook's glamor–
ous exaltation (See Cook, Dr. Frederick A.) had been a severe blow to Peary,
always sensitive to anything which seemed to reflect upon his honor. As well
expressed by the New York Nation:
"As for Peary himself he has been defrauded of something which can never
be restored to him . . . . . False as it has been proved, the claim [by Dr. Cook]
. . . has dimmed the lustre of the true discoverer's achievement. He will receive

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

the full acknowledgement that his work merits, in the form of recognition from
scientific and other bodies and of a sure place in history; but the joy of the
acclaim that should have greeted him at the triumphant close of his twenty-three
years quest can never be his,"
Prophet and Pioneer in Aviation
His exploring career ended, Peary took up at once the subject of aero–
nautics, then in its infancy, and soon he became one of its outstanding pion–
eers. As early as 1910 he expressed his conviction that the airplane would
become an important means of exploring the polar regions; and in 1914 he
asserted, "I have no hesitation in saying that aeroplanes will not only cross
the Atlantic and fly around the world, but cruise to the North Pole across the
polar basin within a very short time." These forecasts were in part realized
by Commander (later Rear Admiral) Richard E. Byrd eleven and thirteen years
later, and the world circuit soon after. In 1917 Peary wrote:
"In the very near future the biting air above the poles will be stirred
by whirring aeroplane propellers, and when that time comes the inner polar
regions will quickly yield their last secrets." This forecast also was soon
to be realized by Byrd.
In 1913 Peary was elected an Honorary Member of the Aero Club and was
soon made chairman of its Committee on Aeronautic Maps and Landing Places, a
position he held until his death in 1920. When in 1914 he began his campaign
to awaken the people to the need of an air force, there were less than twenty
aviators in the Army and Navy combined, and less than that number of airplanes.
With the failure of the Government to provide an air service, Peary in 1915 took
up the problem of training aviators at private expense. The Aero Club made him
chairman of their committee for a projected aerial coast patrol system, the first

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert ES Peary

unit of which was formed at Yale University. The historian of this unite
wrote of Peary:
"He had the scientific imagination to foresee the employment of bombing
squadrons on a vast scale to invade distant territory and destroy the lives
and property of c ivilian populations . . . . .
"Admiral Peary urged the speedy development of the air service for use
as a coast patrol and for fighting submarines . . . . . .He expected the air–
plane to be the decisive factor of the war."
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the aviators of this coast
patrol became squadron and station commanders, and, later, instructors of the
recruits who came into the air service.
In 1916 and 1917 Peary published many letters in the New York Times on
preparation of the national defense at a time when President Wilson was
opposing it. Before the Congress of Constructive Patriotism held in Washington,
January 27, 1917, Peary said: "Do not, however, get the erroneous idea that
I wish to substitute aerial equipment in place of the Navy. Nothing is
farther from my thought. I am urging a great air fleet and also coast defense,
In addition to the Navy ." To help in a strong campaign for education of the
people, Peary accepted the presidency of the Aerial League of America, which
within a year had a membership of five thousand, and played an important part
in legislation for the national defense.
Late in 1917 Secretary Baker of the War Department requested the Aero
Club of America to select two of its members to represent the Club in government
activities. The Club named Admiral Peary and Henry Woodhouse. Peary now repre–
sented both the Aero Club and the Aerial League. With their sixty affiliated
clubs, they were now a powerful organization, so that Peary's aid was invoked
by earnest government officials, who needed outside aid in overcoming bureaucratic

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

inertia. Describing Peary's labors at this time, Alan R. Hawley, eminent
authority on aircraft, wrote: "He is doing for his country in showing us
the way to attain command of the air, as much as Admiral Mahan did in showing
us the way to attain command of the sea." "The remedy," Peary said, "is a
separate department of aeronatics." In March 1917, Peary, accompanied by
U.S. Senators Charles F. Johnson and Morris Sheppard and Congressman Julius
F. Kahn, presented to President Wilson a memorandum urging these measures.
Two months later bills were introduced in both houses of Congress for a
Department of Aeronautics.
Peary at his own expense toured the country and delivered addresses in
support of the bills in twenty large cities from New York to San Francisco.
Before a committee of the U.S. Senate he appeared to urge their passage. His
address was regarded as so important that it was printed and distributed as a
Senate Document. The bills for a Department of Aeronautics were passed by
Congress, and the new department placed under the Secretary of the Navy.
Referring to Peary's part, Henry Woodhouse, his associate in the campaign,
wrote:
"The country know little . . . of Peary as a man and a leader in other
lines than Arctic exploration . . . He was one of the few early leaders of the
national preparedness movement who made a clear and adequate estimate of what
should be done . . . Peary was one of the few who worked on without pause until
two years ago, when he was forced by illness to slow down."
When [] from his campaign tour for preparedness Peary had returned weary
and worn out, his physician saw that he was afflicted with the then incurable
disease, pernicious anaemia. As the encroachments of the malady increased,
transfusions of blood resorted to, thirty-five in all, but with the result only
of temporarily checking its progress. On February 13th he returned from the
hospital to his home in Washington. On the 19th he passed into a coma and at

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

1:20 in the morning of Friday, the 20th of February, be passed away, with
the members of his family at his bedside.
From the great all over the world came floods of telegrams with tributes
of admiration and affection. That from the Explorers' Club to Mrs. Peary
was:
"The Explorers' Club offer you their sympathy in your irreparable loss.
We mourn Admiral Peary as our friend, as our former President, and as the
greatest of all explorers. On behalf of the Board of Directors,
Vilhjalmur Stefansson, President."
The burial on February 23rd was in Arlington National Cemetery with full
military honors. In attendance among the honorary pallbearers were the Vice
President of the United States, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Chief
Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House of
Representatives, the Secretary of the Navy, Members of the Cabinet, and
Rear Admirals Endicott and Parks. Airplanes and seaplanes of igu the United
States Navy hovered over the grave during the ceremony.
Two years later on April 6, 1922, the thirteenth anniversary of the
discovery of the North Pole, a mem m orial ceremony was enacted at Peary's
grave remarkable for the notable persons who participated as had been no
other since the original Armistice Day ceremonies in honor of the Unknown
Soldier.

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Perry

BIBLIOGRAPHY

By Peary. Books. Northward over the "Great Ice," New York, F.A. Stokes Co.,
1898, 2 vols., p.521 and 618. Maps and about 800 illustrations; Nearest
the Pole
, New York, Doubleday Page, 1907, p. 411, maps and 95 illustra–
tions; The North Pole New York, F.A. Stokes Co., 1910, pp. /373, 100 illus–
trations (also DeLuxe editions, and foreign translations as follows:
French, Lafitte, Paris, 1911; German , Süsserott, Berlin, 1910; Italian,
Fratelli Treves, Milan, 1911; Dutch , Willink and Zoon, Haarlemm, 1910;
Swedish , Ahlen-Alkerlunds Forlag, Göteborg,1910; Secrets of Polar Travel ,
New York, The Century Co., 1917, p.313, 73 half-tone illustrations.

Shorter articles (selected). A Reconnaissance of the Greenland Inland Ice,
Amer. Geog. Soc ., Jour. 19 , 261-289, 1887. Four Years' Arctic Exploration
1898-1902, Geog. Jour. 22 . 646-672, 1903 (Reprinted in Smithsonian Institu–
tion Report for 1903, 427-457); Peary Arctic Club Expedition to the North
Pole, 1908-9, Address at Albert Memorial Hall, May 4, 1910, Discussion by
the President, Sir George Nares, Sir Lewis Beaumont, Captain R. F. Scott,
and Captain R. A. Bartlett. Geog. Jour ., 36 , 129-148, Aug. 1910.
The Discovery of the North Pole, Hampdon's Magazine, 24. 3-25, 159-176,
303-304, 329-346, 500-516, 653-668, 773-778, Jan. to Sept. 1910; 25 , [: ]
3-18, 165-180, 8 283-295, 1911. With 3 maps and 124 half-tones.
(French translation in Je Sais Tout , Paris, Jan. to Aug. 1910; Italian
translation in La Lettura, March to August 1910).

By Others. Biographies : Fitzhugh Green, Peary, the Man Who Refused to Fail,
New York, Putnams, 1926, p.404, 20 illustrations; Donald B. MacMillan,
How Peary Reached the Pole, Cambridge, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1934, p.306,
illustrated; William Herbert Hobbs, Peary, New York, Macmillan, 1936,
p.502, 27 maps and 30 illustrations (In appendix B a full list of Peary's publications).

EA-Biog. Hobbs: Robert E. Peary

Shorter articles . Josephine Diebitsch Peary, My Arctic Journal
(With an account of the great White Journey across Greenland, by
Robert E. Peary), New York and Philadelphia, Contemporary Publishing
Co., p. 240, 1893; Hugh J. Lee, Peary's Transections of North Green–
land, 1892-1895, Amer. Philos. Soc ., Proc ., 82 , 921-934, June, 1940;
Henry G. Bryant, The Peary Auxiliary Expedition of 1894, Bulletin No.5
of the Geographical Club of Philadelphia, p.26, 1895, illustrated;
Robert A. Bartlett, Peary's Extended Exploration of Arctic Lands
Culminating in the Attainment of the North Pole, Amer. Philos , Soc ., 82 ,
( [: ] 935-947, June, 1940. R. A. Bartlett, Bringing the Crippled
Roosevelt Home, privately printed, p.21. Matthew A. Henson, A Negro
Explorer at the North Pole, With a foreword by Robert E. Peary and an
introduction by Booker T. Washington, New York, F.A. Stokes Co., p.200,
1912; George Borup, A Tenderfoot with Peary, New York, F.AStokes Co.,
p.317, illustrated; Hugh C. Mitchell, C.E., and Charles R. Duval, B.S.,
The Geographic Position of Camp Jesup, and the Reduction of Observations
of R. E. Peary, in the Vicinity of the North Pole, Reprinted from the
Acts of the 10th International Congress of Geography, Rome, 1913 (X
Congresso Internationale di Geografia , Roma , Atti , pp.686-716, 1915);
Heber D. Curtis, Navigation Near the Pole [Discussion of Peary's Observa–
tions]. U.S. Naval Inst ., Proc. 65 , 9-19, 5 diagrams, Jan. 1939.
Donald B. MacMillan, Peary as a Leader, Nat. Geog. Mag. , 37 , 293-318,
April, 1920; Fitzhugh Green, Rear Admiral Peary, U.S. Scientist and
Arctic Explorer, U.S. Naval Inst. , Proc ., 48 , 1315-1324, August, 1922.

William H. Hobbs
HomeRobert Edwin Peary : Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only