Did he or didn’t he? That’s the question historians and scientists have asked about Robert E. Peary’s claim that he was first to reach the North Pole. Even though the New York Times reported that he’d reached the North Pole in September 1909, it’s not clear what really happened. A week earlier, the New York Herald had proclaimed that Frederick A. Cook had discovered the North Pole a year before Peary.
To complicate matters further, the North Pole lies on drifting ice and is constantly moving. It’s tricky to know if you’re actually on it. Even Cook and Peary weren’t sure. Cook wrote that he and his men determined they were at a spot “as near as possible to the pole.” According to Peary’s companion on the
expedition, Matthew Henson, Peary said, “I do not suppose that we can swear that we are exactly at the Pole.”
For a long time, Peary’s claim won out over Cook’s. (It didn’t help Cook’s case that he was jailed for mail fraud in 1923.) But in 1988, a National Geographic-sponsored review of the records cast new doubt on Peary’s claim. As for Cook, the evidence isn’t conclusive there, either.
The first undisputed overland journey to the North Pole was finally made in 1968 by a party on snowmobiles led by Ralph Plaisted.