- from Explorers
On April 6, 1909, Matthew Henson made it to the top of the world. He, Admiral Robert Peary, and four Inuit—Ookeah, Ootah, Egingwah, and Seegloo—were the first humans to reach the rugged North Pole. Many had died trying.
Peary returned home to glory, honors, and financial reward. Because he was African American, Matthew Henson was ignored. Today, however, the extraordinary role this skilled and courageous man played is widely recognized.
Henson was 21 and Peary 31 when they began their partnership in exploration. In June 1891, they sailed from New York with the first North Greenland Expedition. Five times, over several years, they were defeated by the merciless ice- and rock-bound land. In 1893, they fled before storms that flung boulders around like rubber balls. In 1895, they were stranded, starving, and had to eat their dogs. In 1898, Peary lost his toes to frostbite. But still they wouldn’t give up!