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Commander Robert Peary, photogravure by Donald Baxter MacMillan, 1909.

Frederick Cook and Robert Peary met in 1891, when Cook volunteered his medical services on an expedition to Greenland that Peary led. Both men were enthralled with the Arctic, but their friendship turned to bitter rivalry in their competition to be first to reach the North Pole.

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College

Commander Robert Peary, photogravure by Donald Baxter MacMillan, 1909.

The Discoverer of the North Pole

In the early twentieth century, explorers from many countries vied to reach the North Pole first. In 1909 two Americans, Dr. Frederick Cook and Commander Robert Peary, each claimed to have made the “discovery.” Though neither explorer could provide indisputable proof of reaching the geographic pole, Peary’s claim was more credible. In 1911, after holding hearings on Peary’s expedition, Congress honored Peary’s achievement and promoted him to rear admiral in the United States Navy. Today it is widely held that neither man actually reached the North Pole.

Your committee believe. . . . that Robert Edwin Peary has performed a most remarkable and wonderful service, . . . that therefore the American people, through its Congress, shall render him thanks, and bestow upon him the highest rank of the service which he adorns.

House Committee on Naval Affairs, Recognition of Robert Peary, January 21, 1911