Matthew Henson: First Man to Reach the North Pole.
Matthew Henson was born in Maryland to sharecroppers on August 8, 1866. Through a series fortuitous events, unimaginable grit, work, sacrifice and genius, Mr. Henson became a master artic explorer. He participated in some of the most harrowing and celebrated explorations in the history of man. Though some expeditions brought him to the brink of death, he was not deterred.
"The lure of the arctic is tugging at my heart. To me the trail is calling. The old trail, the trail that is always new."
Leading explorer, Admiral Robert Peary, employed Henson as his second in command on several expeditions including the attempts at reaching the North Pole. If they made it, they would be the first ever to do so.
“Henson must go all the way. I can’t make it there without him."
- Robert Peary
On their 8th attempt, National Geographic reported that Henson and Peary left New York on the SS Roosevelt on August 18, 1908, along with “22 Inuit men, 17 Inuit women, 10 children, 246 dogs, 70 tons (64 metric tons) of whale meat, the meat and blubber of 50 walruses, hunting equipment, and tons of coal."
Nearly 8 months later, with only four Inuit men and few supplies in their company, they were nearing their goal. On the final leg, Peary was unable to continue and sent Henson ahead. Henson slightly overshot their destination. When he circled back, Henson saw his footprints in the snow and realized that they were the first made in that spot. He proudly planted the American flag.
When Peary arrived at the spot 45 minutes later, Henson marveled, "I think I'm the first man to sit on top of the world." It soon became clear that Peary was greatly displeased that Henson arrived first.
“Commander Peary scarcely spoke to me,” Henson recalled. “It nearly broke my heart … that he would rise in the morning and slip away on the homeward trail without rapping on the ice for me, as was the established custom.”
Matthew Henson first set foot on the North Pole on April 6, 1909 at the age of 42. He died in the Bronx in 1955. He was 88 years old. Both Henson and Peary were lawfully married to their American wives until death did them part, but in the 1980’s folks discovered that both men had children by their “Inuit wives” and those children were invited to the United States.
If you would like to read a first-hand account, Matthew Henson wrote book about the journey to the North Pole in 1912 entitled “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.”