Who Really Reached the North Pole First?

Matthew Alexander Henson was the first man to reach the North Pole.

He was a member of an exploration team headed by Robert E. Peary, and he was a black man. Henson was 42 years old when, in 1909, he set out with Admiral Peary and four Eskimos for the final leg of the trip that would take them to the pole.

Peary had lost eight of his ten toes to the freezing cold and rode most of the way in a dog sled. On the morning of the fifth day, Peary sent Henson and the Eskimos ahead to break a trail to the pole while he followed more slowly.

Early that afternoon, Henson and his companions reached their goal and gave a cheer. They were the first men to reach the North Pole. Peary arrived later that day, and the men had a brief ceremony marking the event. Peary rushed back to tell the world of his great success.

Although Henson had worked with him faithfully for 22 years as his valet and assistant, and had twice saved him from certain death, Peary never mentioned the fact that it was Henson, and not he, who had been the first to reach the North Pole.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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