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Postcard on Discovery of North Pole

Postcard on Discovery of North Pole/tiles/non-collection/c/c_048imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Postcard on Discovery of North Pole/tiles/non-collection/c/c_048imgtile2.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


This pointed postcard petition was sent to Representative Samuel Beakes by a resident of Jackson, Michigan. In 1909, two men claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole. Although the achievement was announced in the press simultaneously, Robert E. Peary and Dr. Frederick A. Cook maintained they had reached the North Pole in April 1909 and 1908, respectively. There is no landmass at the North Pole. So, other than their word and notations in their logs that they had reached the coordinates on a map that indicated the North Pole, the men had no tangible evidence of their discovery. In 1911, the competing claims prompted the Committee on Naval Affairs to investigate. The committee’s investigation culminated with a law promoting Peary to the rank of rear-admiral and thanking him for explorations “resulting in reaching the North Pole.” Tellingly, there was no mention of discovery or being first.

The debate continued to simmer. In 1913, Peary received the French Legion of Honor, and he received other medals and awards in recognition of his achievement. Cook was resigned to pleading his case in the press and other speaking engagements. The postcard expresses concern for the “blot on our Flag” and “slur at our National Honor” resulting from the controversy. The petitioner asks for an investigation that would conclude in “proper recognition” for one or both men as the discoverers of the North Pole. A joint resolution to that effect was introduced in 1914 by Charles Smith and referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs; however, the resolution did not pass and no investigation resulted.

More than 100 years after their claims of discovery and intense scrutiny of the archival evidence of both explorers’ journeys, a definitive account of who was first remains elusive.

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