Matthew Henson, polar explorer.
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Photo by Robert Peary, 1908.

Matthew Henson - Polar Explorer

Matthew Henson was an explorer during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He made many journeys to the Arctic during that time. In 1909, a group led by the famous American polar explorer Robert E. Peary may have been the first people to reach the North Pole. Matt Henson was part of that group.

Matt Henson spent nearly 20 years exploring the Arctic along with Peary. He learned a lot about surviving in the cold from the Inuit people who live there. Henson (an African-American) learned the Inuit language and became very good at driving dog sleds. Peary once said that Henson "was more of an Eskimo than some of them".

Matthew Alexander Henson was born near Washington, D.C. on August 6, 1866. He became an orphan at the age of 11. Young Matt found a job as a cabin boy on a ship in Baltimore. The captain of that ship taught him how to read and write.

Matt Henson met Robert Peary in 1887. He went on many journeys with Peary. In 1909, Peary led a group that tried to make it to the North Pole. Henson and four Inuit men were also in that group. Peary claimed the group made it to the Pole, but some historians aren't sure whether he really did or not.

In 1912 Henson wrote a book about his explorations titled "A Negro Explorer at the North Pole". Later, in 1947, he worked with author Bradley Robinson on another book. That book, called "Dark Companion", was Henson's biography. Matt Henson died on March 9, 1955.

The National Geographic Society awarded Matt Henson the Hubbard Medal for exploration and discovery. Matthew Henson Middle School in Maryland (near the place where Matt was born) was named in honor of the explorer. The United States Navy also named a ship that studies the oceans the USNS Henson after Matt.

Last modified January 17, 2007 by Randy Russell.

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