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Peary was an explorer whose claims that he led the first expedition to reach the geographic North Pole, in 1909, resulted in a Congressional medal in 1944. His books include Northward Over the Great Ice (1898), Nearest the Pole (1907), The North Pole (1910), and Secrets of Polar Travel (1917), as well as a book for children that he co-wrote with his daughter, Snowland Folk (1904).
Peary moved to DC in 1879 to work for the US Coast and Geodetic Survey. In 1881, he joined the US Navy Civil Engineers Corps and was sent to Nicaragua, to explore the interior for a proposed canal route, never constructed. In the 1890s, he made several trips to Greenland. He then led two trips to the North Pole, the second of which resulted in the sledge journey that brought him his greatest fame. In April 1909, Peary claimed that he, Matthew Hensen, Iggianguaq, Sigluk, Odaq, and Ukkajaaq attained the Pole.
Unlike most previous white explorers, Peary studied Inuit culture, built igloos, dressed in native furs, and relied on Inuit hunters and dog-sled drivers. He pioneered a system of using support teams and supply caches. Another explorer, Frederick A. Cook (the former surgeon on his earlier polar expedition), claimed that he had reached the North Pole one year prior to Peary, and the rival claims were fought out in newspapers and public speeches. The National Geographic Society certified Peary's claim, and after much Congressional debate, government honors were finally bestowed upon Peary, who was given a Rear Admiral's pension. Both Peary's and Cook's claims are now widely thought to be false.
Peary retired from the Navy in 1911 and lived his last years in DC with his wife and their two white children. (Two other children, born to an Inuk wife named Alakahsingwah, were revealed later. This second wife was a young girl of 14 when she and Peary first began their relationship.) Peary is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Photo of author courtesy of Library of Congress.