Peary, Robert Edwin

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Peary, Robert Edwin

(pēr`ē), 1856–1920, American arctic explorer, b. Cresson, Pa. In 1881 he entered the U.S. navy as a civil engineer and for several years served in Nicaragua, where he was engaged in making surveys for the Nicaragua Canal. He became interested in arctic exploration and made a trip to the interior of Greenland in 1886; later (1891–92), having secured a leave of absence from the navy, he led an expedition to Greenland for scientific study and exploration. Important ethnological and meteorological observations were recorded, a long sled journey to the northeast coast of Greenland was made, Peary Land was explored, and the insularity and approximate northerly extension of Greenland were confirmed.

New expeditions continued the work in 1893–95, and in two summer voyages (1896, 1897) Peary brought back to the United States his noted meteorites. An account of his arctic experiences appeared in Northward over the "Great Ice" (1898). Granted another leave of absence from naval duty, he again led an expedition (1898–1902), this time to search for the North Pole. He was only able to reach lat. 84°17'N, but he made important surveys of Ellesmere Land and a study of the surface and drift of the polar ice pack. His Nearest the Pole (1907) recorded the events of his 1905–6 expedition, when he attained lat. 87°6'N, which was only c.174 mi (280 km) from his objective.

In 1908, Peary set out on his last quest for the North Pole. From Ellesmere Island, accompanied by Matthew HensonHenson, Matthew Alexander,
1866–1965, African-American arctic explorer, b. Charles County, Md. He accompanied Robert E. Peary as personal assistant, dog driver, and interpreter on numerous expeditions to the Arctic between 1891 and 1909. On Apr.
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 and four Eskimos, he made a final dash for the pole, which he claimed to have reached on Apr. 6, 1909. He announced that he had achieved his goal, but on his return he learned of the prior claim of Dr. Frederick A. CookCook, Frederick Albert,
1865–1940, American explorer and physician, b. Sullivan co., N.Y. Cook early became interested in the arctic and accompanied the expedition of Robert E. Peary in 1891–92 as surgeon.
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, who had been ship's surgeon on Peary's expedition of 1891–92. An extremely bitter controversy followed, with Peary accusing Cook of fraud. Although Cook fought to the end of his life, not without some support, to substantiate his claim, Congress recognized Peary's achievement and offered him its thanks in 1911, the year in which he retired from the navy with the rank of rear admiral. Nevertheless, it remains questionable as to whether Peary reached the exact location of the North Pole, and many polar experts now do not believe either he or Cook did.

Peary's wife, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, 1863–1955, accompanied him on several of his expeditions and gave birth in the arctic to Peary's daughter, Marie Ahnighito Peary. His wife published her experiences in My Arctic Journal (1893).


See his North Pole (1910) and Secrets of Polar Travel (1917); biographies by W. H. Hobbs (1936) and J. E. Weems (1967); D. B. MacMillan, How Peary Reached the Pole (1934); W. R. Hunt, To Stand at the Pole (1982); M. A. Henson, A Black Explorer at the North Pole (1991); R. M. Bryce Cook and Peary: The Polar Controversy Resolved (1997); F. L. Israel, ed., Robert E. Peary and the Rush to the North Pole (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Peary, Robert Edwin


Born May 6, 1856, in Cresson, Pa.; died Feb. 20, 1920, in Washington, D.C. American arctic explorer. Educated as an engineer. Served in US Navy. Admiral from 1911.

In the spring of 1892, Peary was the first to cross the northern ice cap of Greenland, traveling by dogsled from Inglefield Gulf to the northeast and then back to the bay; in the spring of 1895 he repeated this round-trip crossing. In the spring of 1900, Peary, traveling northeast from Smith Sound, was the first to trace the entire northern coast of Greenland, in particular, the peninsula later named Peary Land, where he discovered Cape Morris Jesup. In the spring of 1906, proceeding northward from Cape Hecla on Ellesmere Island, Peary reached 87°06′ N lat. He then set out from Cape Columbia and reached the North Pole on Apr. 6, 1909 (89°55′ N lat. according to the best estimates of American experts). On the last stage of the journey, from 87°47′ N lat., he was accompanied by four others.


Northward Over the “Great Ice,” vols. 1–2. London, 1898.
Nearest the Pole. New York, 1907.
Secrets of Polar Travel. New York, 1917.
In Russian translation:
Severnyi polius. Moscow, 1972.


Laktionov, A. F. Severnyi polius [3rd ed.]. Moscow, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
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Henson and his employer Robert Peary - who was white - claimed to have been the first people to set foot on the North Pole in April 1909.
Porter caught what he would call Arctic fever when, in 1892, he attended a lecture by Robert Peary, who described his latest explorations in northern Greenland, which he had proved to be an island.
Amundsen was already well known, as he had led major expeditions to the Arctic, and was planning to be the first person to reach the north pole, but when he was beaten to the north pole by Frederic Cook and Robert Peary, he changed his objective to the south pole.