Robert E. Peary School

Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920) was born in Cresson, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1856. His parents, Charles and Mary, originated from Maine. Charles died when Robert was three and Mary decided to move her only child back home to Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Peary attended Bowdoin College, joining the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, before graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1877.

After college, Peary worked as a county surveyor and a cartographic draftsman. In 1881, he was selected to become one of the Navy’s first civil engineers with the rank equivalent of lieutenant (USN). His first assignment was to inspect a new iron pier being built in Key West. His following assignment, assisting the chief engineer of a canal project in Nicaragua, sparked his thirst for Arctic exploration.

Perhaps his dissatisfaction with being a “workhorse” in the jungles of Central America and the inspiration of an 1886 paper “on the inland ice of Greenland,” prompted Peary to set off to explore the Arctic by way of Greenland. In May of 1886, he embarked on his journey, “making a deeper penetration of the Greenland interior than anyone before him, and discovering, once the crevasses and meltwater lakes had been passed, a truly ‘imperial highway’ for the explorer.”

This would be the first of several expeditions to Greenland and the Arctic with his crowning achievement as being the first to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909.

Peary’s polar claim was disputed due to a “combination of navigational mistakes and record-keeping errors.” Still, it is universally accepted that Peary and his close friend Matthew Henson, were the first to reach the North Pole. Peary retired from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral in 1911. His publications included Northward over the “Great Ice” (1898), The North Pole (1910), and Secrets of Polar Travel (1917).

Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary is credited in the Navy as being “the most famous Civil Engineer Corps officer to date.” The most prestigious exploration and research awards Peary won in his lifetime were the Cullum Geographical Medal (1896), the Charles P. Daly Medal (1902), and the Hubbard Medal (1906). In addition to his career as a naval officer and Arctic explorer, Peary was also very interested in aircraft and their “possible use for exploration and military purposes.”

Peary remains an important figure not only for his Naval career or Arctic exploration but also for documenting tidal observations of the Arctic Ocean and the livelihoods of the Inuit people. However, Peary’s treatment of the Inuit and disregard for their culture remain controversial today.

Upon his death in 1920, Peary was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with a “monument featuring a large, white granite globe and a bronze star pointing north marking the North Pole.” "In 1986, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps about Arctic Explorers identifying Peary as ‘one of two Civil Engineer Corps officers to be associated with a postage stamp.’”


"Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary," Arlington National Cemetery," accessed October 20, 2023,

"Robert Peary," Britannica, accessed October 20, 2023,

"The Mysterious Discovery of a Continent That Wasn't There," Natioanl Geographic, December18, 2016,

"Exploration: Matthew Henson," Smithsonian National Postal Museum, accessed October 20, 2023,