Robert Peary (1856-1920) was the American explorer who discovered the North Pole. From soundings taken, he also discovered that the sea around the North Pole was not as shallow as was popularly believed up until that time.
Peary was born in Pennsylvania, but his family soon returned to Maine, where his ancestors had lived. He attended Bowdoin College where he took the civil engineering course. He worked first as a land surveyor in Maine and then as a draftsman for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. He passed the difficult examination for civil engineers in the U.S. Navy and took up his lifelong career in engineering, from which he took leaves of absence when he went on his Arctic explorations. He first worked on ship canals and dry docks. When a canal was being planned across Central America, Peary was sent to survey the possibility of a route across Nicaragua. He is often credited with being one of the first engineers to recommend that the canal be dug through the Isthmus of Panama, as it later was.
His first four Arctic journeys were in Greenland. His wife went with him on several of these expeditions, and their first child, Marie, was born in Greenland, further north than any but Eskimo children had ever been born before. Peary was not the first man to cross Greenland, as another explorer, Nansen, beat him by a small margin, but he made many useful discoveries. He established the fact that Greenland is an island; he found and brought back three enormous meteorites; and he made friends with the Eskimos and learned to use their methods and clothing.
With the knowledge gained from the Greenland explorations, Peary set his sights on reaching the North Pole. His plan was to sail a ship as far north as it could go along the Greenland coast, and push on with dogs and sledges. Twelve years, three expeditions, two ships and seven frostbitten toes later, he achieved his goal. At his side when he planted five flags at the North Pole were his assistant Matthew Henson, who accompanied him on nearly all his trips, and four Eskimos. And behind their achievement stood Robert Bartlett, captain of the ship Roosevelt, and all the men who had been working in relays to break trail, build igloos, and bring up supplies so that Peary and his adventurous companions could not only get to the North Pole, but also come back to civilization alive.
Another explorer, Frederick A. Cook, claimed to have reached the Pole first, but after a Congressional investigation, it was decided that Cook had probably not reached it at all.