Frederick Cook: 100 Years Later

One hundred years ago today American explorer Frederick Cook claimed to be the first man to reach the North Pole. He set off from Annoatok in Greenland early in 1908, and continued North, foraging for food as he went, until he allegedly reached the top of the world.

He took with him just two inuit men to serve has his support team, and all three wandered back south to Devon Island, where they spent the winter before returning to Greenland in 1909. Upon their return, they told tales of bitter cold, extreme hardships, and accomplished goals.

But, you’ll notice that I used the words “claimed” and “allegedly” when describing Cook’s adventures. A year after Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole, in April of 1909, another American explorer, and rival of Cooks, Robert Peary went to the North Pole, and upon his return started a campaign to smear and discredit Cook.

Peary claimed that upon reaching his polar destination, he found no signs of Cook having been there, and he claimed the title of “First to the Pole” for himself.

Cook, for his part, could never muster the support he needed to prove his claims. He said that his detailed journals were left in Annoatok, and that they would provide his navigational data. But when the boxes were given to Peary to bring back with him, he refused to allow them on his ship, and they were sent back into storage, never to be seen again.

Soon, the entire nation, indeed the world, bought into Peary’s claims, and Cook was discredited, despite numerous attempts to clear his name and prove that he had completed the journey. He had supporters. The Inuit guides believed that they had reached the Pole, and there were others that thought that what little data he could provide was compelling evidence, but it was too little and too late for Cook.

The story of Peary and Cook’s rivalry has become an enduring controversy in the world of polar exploration. This week, will explore the story in depth and provide some insight into it. They haven’t published anything more than a teaser yet, but look for their coverage of the Polar Controversy over the next few days. It should be an interesting and fun look back.

Kraig Becker

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