north pole expedition

Robert E. Peary documented his trip from 1909 to the North Pole with a Kodak No. 4 folding pocket camera. Although the camera was lost, the images taken with it were used by the National Geographic Society in 1989 to document that the excursion had been carried out. In this photo, Peary explores the Arctic using a telescope.

In recognition of Black History Month, we are posting weekly about the life and accomplishments of the first person to set foot at the North Pole… It is Matt Henson Monday!

In 1891, Matthew Henson and Robert Peary sailed North together on the first of six Arctic expeditions that they would undertake together. The North Greenland Expedition of 1891-92 saw Matthew Henson as Peary’s “assistant,” a title that he would keep for all six Arctic expeditions. Henson proved his capability again in the Arctic, meeting the challenges of Arctic survival and exploration as well as (perhaps better than) any other southerner. Donald B. MacMillan described Henson as “the best field man aboard ship.”  Henson’s intelligence and talent were enhanced by the many skills he learned from the Inughuit men and women, whom Peary hired to support the expeditions. More on this next week!

Not only did Matthew Henson excel as an Arctic explorer, but he himself possessed a deep appreciation for the Arctic. As he wrote in his autobiographic account of the 1908-1909 North Pole expedition, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole:

There is an irresistible fascination about the regions of northernmost Grant Land that is impossible for me to describe. Having no poetry in my soul, and being somewhat hardened by years of experience in that inhospitable country, words proper to give you an idea of its unique beauty do no come to mind. Imagine gorgeous bleakness, beautiful blankness. It never seems broad, bright day, even in the middle of June, and the sky has different effects of the varying hours of morning and evening twilight from the first to the last peep of day… Artists have gone with us into the Arctic and I have heard them rave over the wonderful beauties of the scene, and I have seen them at work trying to reproduce some of it, with good results but with nothing like the effect of the original.


P.S. Check out this great audio clip on Henson from AudioFile Magazine.

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I’m in Helsinki for a few days, resting after finishing up my North Pole season. 

The highlight of my 7th voyage (!) to the North Pole was this polar bear. I had been longing for an “iceberg bear” since my first season in the Arctic, and wow, just amazing when it finally happened. We spent an hour with this wonderful creature, who was very patient with our big orange ship. 

I also took a TON of video which I’ll edit together and share soon but for now, I hope you can get a good feel for this special Arctic moment through these photos.

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If you have 5 minutes to spare, this is a video I made documenting a trip to the Geographic North Pole on board Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory. 

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We made it! Back in Murmansk following the first of our four icebreaker voyages to the North Pole. 

It was a great start to the season, with polar bear cubs, gorgeous skies and stunning light, a blue sky day at the North Pole, and we had the most incredible sighting of over a dozen Bowhead whales in Franz Josef Land. 

Our sea ice project is off to a fantastic start. We learned heaps from our bridge team, took hourly observations, measured melt ponds at the pole, and are really looking forward to guests participating in our next cruise. Which leaves…tonight! 

A few hours here online and then back north we go. Hope all is well wherever you are! Can’t wait to catch up as much as I can today.

Henson was an arctic explorer who accompanied Robert Peary on numerous expeditions attempting to reach the North Pole. Although Henson’s role was vital to the team’s success in reaching the North Pole in 1909, he shared in almost none of the accolades for the achievement until several decades later.

In 1998, NPR’s All Things Considered addressed Henson’s contribution. Listen here.

In 1897, Swedish engineer S.A. Andrée tried to reach the North Pole in a leaky balloon steered only by dragging ropes. He and two companions disappeared for 33 years. In the 1930s, their camp was found. They crashed two days into their journey and spent three months trying to walk home. “Morale remains good.” Andrée wrote before becoming incoherent. “With such comrades as these one ought to be able to manage under practically any circumstances whatsoever.”