Peary, Adm. Robert E.


Nov. 1904 LS to the Peary Arctic Club Secretary-Treasurer, offers to contribute supplies for a dinner, including “pickled narwhal skin”



Autograph ID: 5803
Condition: Very good, faint clip stains at top of 1st sheet, small hole at top of 2nd sheet
Description: “(1856-1920) US Naval officer, explorer, his claim to have been 1st to reach North Pole 4/6/09, then and now under dispute. Made several prior expeditions to the Arctic, explored Greenland by dogsled, studied Inuit survival techniques, built igloos, dressed in furs for heat preservation and to avoid extra weight of tents & sleeping bags. Pioneered use of support teams and supply caches for Arctic travel. During course of his explorations, had 8 toes amputated.

Very good content 10 x 8 1/4 LS, Washington, November 5 1904, 1-1/2pp (2 sheets), to “My Dear Bridgman”. Peary thanks him for budget news and enclosures, Peary “…shall not be at all surprised if you receive regrets from president Bell [Alexander Graham Bell, National Geographic Society president] & Secty Moody [Wm. H. Moody, Navy Secretary].” Peary hopes Bridgman will be able to have a (likely, Peary Arctic Club) dinner on the “Windward” (Peary’s 1898-1902 expedition flagship). Peary tells Bridgman that he has the following supplies to contribute to the dinner: “1 bottle New England Rum (at Conger 20 yrs.); 1 bottle Benedictine (at Conger 20 yrs.); 1 bottle whiskey (Rec’d from you in ’99 and taken on the sledge trip of 1900 to 83.39°N.. & also down east coast); 1 box cigars (Presented by you in ’99 wintered at Etah, at Conger & at Sabine); 1 box ‘Fram’ Cigars, (4 yrs. in the Arctic). If you think it would be appreciated I can also contribute a jar or two of pickled narwhal skin.” Peary also asks Bridgman to send him, if possible, “the sketch map of the extreme north Greenland coast which I gave you in 1901 with my skeleton report.”

HERBERT L. BRIDGMAN (1844-1924) American journalist and explorer, a member of Peary’s 1894 Auxiliary Expedition. Peary’s 3rd polar attempt, his 8th and last expedition into the north (sponsored by the Peary Arctic Club), supposedly succeeded on 6 April 1909. By prearranged code, Peary sent his 1st telegram to Herbert Bridgman, Brooklyn Standard-Union: “SUN – Peary” (meaning “success”). Bridgman served with several newspapers, becoming business manager of the Brooklyn Standard-Union. He was president, Dept. of Geography, Brooklyn Inst. Arts and Sciences, 1909-?; Honorary Fellow, American Museum of Natural History; member, American, National, and Philadelphia Geographical Societies; US delegate to the 1906, 1908 & 1913 International Polar Congresses; Secretary-Treasurer of the Peary Arctic Club 1898-1915. In the spring of 1898, the Peary Arctic Club was organized, and Morris K. Jesup, Henry W. Cannon, and Bridgman, all personal friends of Peary, formed the nucleus of the PAC, largely an organization of wealthy New York businessmen and lawyers formed to promote Peary’s expeditions to the North Pole. Through the club, Peary and his supporters raised money and forged key relationships with prominent scientific organizations and museums in New York and Washington, D.C., whose support was critical to turning public opinion in his favor, especially in the later dispute with Dr. Frederick Cook as to which was 1st at the Pole. Club members provided funding and support for Peary’s arctic travels. In 1905, it raised enough money to build Peary the 1st powerful US ice-breaker, the Roosevelt. Peary probably had his most solid, enthusiastic support during his 1898-1902 expedition, but each of his 4 spring attempts on the Pole failed. His most dedicated backers formally organized into the Peary Arctic Club while he was away. While he did not reach the Pole 1898-1902, the American Geographical Society and Royal Geographic Society of London honored him for tenacity, mapping of previously uncharted areas, and his discovery in 1900 of Cape Jesup at the north tip of Greenland. Peary also achieved a “farthest north” for the western hemisphere in 1902 north of Canada’s Ellesmere Island. Bridgman regularly corresponded with Peary by letter or cable to help the explorer plot his strategy in the critical weeks of Sept.-Oct. 1909 on his return to the US after claiming to have reached the Pole. For Peary, it was not enough to promote his own claim; it was also necessary to discredit his major rival. Collaborating with Bridgman and Hubbard, he led an aggressive attack on Cook, including intelligence gathering, carefully planned media strikes, and lobbying to isolate his competitor in the exploration and scientific communities. Part of the PR campaign required Peary to stay in the public eye and help get his story out. In Sept. 1909, Bridgman enjoined Peary to abandon his “seclusion and reticence” and appear at a series of public events, beginning with the sailing of the “Roosevelt” in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Also important to Peary’s campaign were the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the National Geographic Society, a major financial backer of Peary’s last polar expedition. On 15 October 1909, the Society appointed a sub-committee to examine the merits of Peary’s claim, pre-empting efforts to refer the matter to the National Academy of Sciences. This group declared Peary the winner of the Race to the Pole, after which a member of the sub-committee publicly pronounced Cook a “faker.””
Type: Letter

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