Robert Peary Collection, 1889 - 1970Stefansson Mss-198

Biography

Robert Edwin Peary was born on May 6, 1856 in Cresson, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1877. Peary made several expeditions to the Arctic, exploring Greenland by dog sled in 1886 and 1891 and returning to the island three times in the 1890s, including the Peary Relief Expedition to Greenland of 1892. In 1895 he was successful in crossing the inland ice. He made important scientific observations and ethnological studies of an Eskimo tribe. His wife accompanied him on two expeditions; their daughter, nicknamed the "Snow Baby," was born in Greenland. Peary's work in the Arctic generated much public interest, but his name is best remembered for his last expedition. In 1909, accompanied by Matthew Henson and four Eskimos, Peary determined that he had reached the North Pole. On his return to civilization, he learned of Cook's claim to reaching the Pole in 1908, and the controversy began. Peary's claim drew wide support, and in 1911 he obtained the official thanks of the U.S. Congress. Then, after eight Arctic expeditions, six attempts to reach the Pole, and some twelve years spent inside the Arctic Circle, Peary retired to his home on Eagle Island, Maine. During World War I, he recognized the value of aviation in warfare and advocated more use of aircraft. His last public appearance was in 1919 at a National Geographic Society meeting, where Vilhjalmur Stefansson effected reconciliation between Peary and an old enemy, General A. W. Greely. In 1920, Peary died in Washington, D.C.

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