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The First to Reach the North Pole

It has been 100 years (and two days) since the New York Times announced that Robert E. Peary had reached the North Pole on April 16, 1909, making him the first man to do so. (News traveled much slower back then.) Of course, the Times was conveniently ignoring their rival, the New York Herald, which...

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Sunset at the North Pole (courtesy of flickr user lanz)




It has been 100 years (and two days) since the New York Times announced that Robert E. Peary had reached the North Pole on April 16, 1909, making him the first man to do so. (News traveled much slower back then.) Of course, the Times was conveniently ignoring their rival, the New York Herald, which just the week before had named Frederick A. Cook the first man to reach the Pole, on April 21, 1908.



But the Times, the National Geographic Society and even Congress declared Peary the winner. That hasn’t stopped a century of heated discussions on the matter, though. Smithsonian magazine weighed the arguments earlier this year in “ Who Discovered the North Pole?” The writer, Bruce Henderson, doesn’t declare either the winner, but he makes a good case for Cook.



The Times took up the matter again yesterday, and this time John Tierney argues that neither Peary nor Cook reached the North Pole. In his blog TierneyLab, he asks “ Who Was First at the North Pole?” The next person to make the claim was Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr., who reportedly flew over the Pole in 1926. But Byrd’s diary evidently says he fell short. Norwegian Roald Amundsen followed up his South Pole discovery with further explorations, and he flew a dirigible over the North Pole in 1926. But does flying over the Pole count? If it doesn’t in your book, the first person to travel to the Pole across the ice was Ralph Plaisted from Minnesota. He took a snowmobile to the North Pole in 1968.



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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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