This multi-skilled explorer may well have been first to the North Pole – in 1909. What’s not in doubt is his resourcefulness and love of the Inuit
Matthew Alexander Henson, perhaps the first person to the North Pole. Born Charles County, Maryland, US, 8 August 1866.
Claim to fame
Matthew Henson, the descendant of slaves, has a plausible claim to being the first explorer to reach the North Pole. He grew up in Washington DC and Baltimore, was orphaned and left school at 12 to be a cabin boy. When he was 22, a chance encounter with naval engineer Robert Peary resulted in a lifelong working relationship, including 18 years of Arctic exploration. On 6 April 1909, Henson, Peary and four Inuit drove their dogsleds to the North Pole – or as near as makes no difference. Peary took the credit for being first, but a newspaper article on their return quoted Henson as saying he’d been part of a leading group that had overshot the pole by several miles: “We went back then and I could see my footprints were the first at the spot.”