April 6 - Reaching the North Pole! (But...Really?)

Posted on April 6, 2020

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, polar exploration was of great interest to people. Phrases such as "the ends of the Earth" and "the most remote corners of the world" make no sense when talking about a roughly spherical planet - and yet still make a kind of sense because our human scale on the planet makes it feel flat...and people were fascinated by the concept of visiting places never before seen.

Finding the geographic North Pole would
be easier if it was located exactly where
the magnetic North Pole is located.
But it's not.
Of course, using the sky and navigational instruments to determine location - where EXACTLY is the geographical North and South Pole? - made conquering these particular goals even more difficult than ice and weather made them. 

Robert Peary was an American explorer and US Navy officer who led several expeditions to the North Pole. He set a new "Farthest North" record at the turn of the century (1902) but continued on until this date in 1909, when one of his scouts, Matthew Hensen, may have reached the North Pole slightly before the rest of the six-man group got there.

Peary communicated the news of this "first" - termed by many as a "discovery" - from Labrador. He made headlines! 

But at nearly the same time, a former expedition-mate, American explorer Dr. Frederick Cook, arrived back in civilization after more than a year of being missing and presumed dead on his own polar expedition. Cook also claimed to have reached the North Pole - but a whole year ahead of Perry, in April of 1908!

Above, Robert Peary
Below, Dr. Frederick Cook

It is not certain whether either Peary or Cook actually reached the exact spot we call the geographical North Pole. Both men claimed to have left notes (and in Peary's case, a strip from the American flag he took to the Pole) in tins buried in the ice, and neither note has ever been found. 

Of course, since the North Pole is located in an open ocean often covered by constantly-shifting sea ice, we would not be likely to find anything where it was once buried!

Both men showed daring in making polar expeditions, at any rate, no matter whether or not their claims were correct. Peary ended up getting the credit for the "discovery" - but some scholars question this. To read more about the controversy, check out this article in the Smithsonian

By the way, these days really rich people apparently sometimes travel to the North Pole - I guess for bragging rights? Or to see with their own two eyes something they have always heard about? 

The pictures below show a way to stay at the North Pole - for more than $100,000 a night!

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