First to North Pole

Not Peary. A guy named Ralph.


First surface journey to the North Pole. This really should be a Will Ferrell movie. 

American Robert Peary has long been lauded as the first person to reach the North pole, on October 6, 1909. He almost certainly was not.

The final leg of Peary’s journey included a 6-person team, including Matthew Henson, an African American, and four Inuits named Ootah, Seeglo, Egingwah, and Ooqueah. For long stretches, the Inuits and Henson pulled Peary along in a sled, because Peary was not physically up to the arduous journey. Peary’s plan was to wait until the last minute, and then tell his team to hold in place, while he advanced to the pole alone, to ensure all glory for himself. The plan didn’t work; Henson arrived at the destination ahead of Peary.

But the bigger problem is that most scholars don’t think Peary told the truth about how far north the expedition had travelled. It’s unlikely their final destination was actually the North Pole.

The first confirmed surface expedition to the North Pole didn’t happen until April 19th, 1968; a quest that began with a bar bet in Minnesota. Ralph Plaisted, an insurance salesman from Bruno, Minnesota was enamored with his new snowmobile. After a few beers, he bet a friend he could ride it all the way to the North Pole. The friend took the bet. Plaisted rounded up a few buddies, none of whom had polar experience, and the ragtag group drove their ski-doos all the way to the pole.

Plaisted’s arrival at the North Pole was confirmed by independent aircraft observers. However, it’s likely most 5-year-olds would be suspicious of Plaisted’s claim, given he did not report seeing any toy workshops, elves, or red-nosed reindeer. 

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