Robert Peary and Matthew
Henson opened up the gateway to the North Pole. In 1909
they became the first people to make it to the North
Pole. Robert Peary, who led many expeditions to the Pole
and Greenland, chose Matthew Henson to be his assistant.
Henson, an African-American, also opened up exploration
for his race.
Peary was born on May 6, 1856 in
Cresson, Pennsylvania. He entered the U.S. Navy in 1881
and was there until he retired.
Henson was born on August 8, 1866
in Charles County, Maryland. He was orphaned at the age
of 12. He ran away as a cabin boy on the ship Katie
Henson met Peary while working in a
store in Washington D.C. Peary invited Henson to
accompany him on his exploration of Nicaragua in 1888.
From that point on they would be partners in many
One of their first expeditions was
when they traveled to the interior of Greenland in 1886.
Peary led an expedition in 1891 to Northern Greenland. On
this trip Peary proved that Greenland was an island.
Through these expeditions Henson was his personal
assistant and dog driver.
In 1898 the two, along with others,
traveled on the ship The Windward to discover the North
Pole. After four years they did not reach the pole. The
expedition traveled farther north than anyone had reached
in the American Arctic, 390 miles south of the pole.
In 1905 they tried again on The
Roosevelt, a ship designed to sail among masses of moving
ice. Hardships forced the party to go back after coming
within 200 miles south of the pole, another record.
In 1908 Peary and Henson set out
over ice from Ellesmere Island. On April 6, 1909 they
finally reached the North Pole. The first people ever to
set foot on the North Pole that day were Robert Peary and
Matthew Henson, who were accompanied by four Eskimos. It
is said that Peary had to rest three miles from the pole
making Henson the first American to reach the North
Trips to the North and South Pole
have been done pretty often in recent times. There's even
a whole command base near the South Pole. Robert Peary
helped to open up the world to the coldest places on
Earth while Matthew Henson became the first
African-American to reach the North Pole.
Robert Peary retired from the Navy
in 1911 with the rank of rear admiral. He had three books
published about his explorations. Robert Peary died on
February 20, 1920 in Washington D.C.
In 1913 President Taft made Henson
clerk in the New York Customs House which he held until
1936. Henson earned a master's degree from Harvard
University in the 1930's. In 1944 Matthew Henson received
the Congressional Medal of Honor, a very prestigious
award. Henson passed away on March 5, 1955 in New York