Biography of Robert Edwin Peary
On the 13th anniversary of the discovery of the North Pole, April 6, 1922, the National Geographic Society unveiled its white granite tribute to the explorer, Robert Edwin Peary. The monument, with its smooth terrestrial globe, bears the Latin inscription:
"Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam," meaning "I shall find a way or make one."
These words describe Peary's quest to find the North Pole, and his staunch determination to overcome all obstacles.
Peary, who was born on May 6, 1856, in Cresson, Pa., was a member of the U.S. Navy Civil Engineering Corps. He was 52 years old when he and his assistant, Matthew Henson, and four Eskimo aides, stood on the top of the world. While in the Navy, Peary made four trips to Greenland, which were his first expeditions into the Arctic region. These exploratory journeys earned him great fame and prepared the way for his most ambitious journey to the North Pole.
In 1897, granted a leave of absence from the Navy, Peary announced his daring expedition. Peary began his journey in 1898 and returned within four years having been unsuccessful in reaching his destination. In 1905, he set out once again aboard the Roosevelt, and pushed his way northward on sledges over the icebound Arctic Ocean. At 87 degrees, 6 minutes, Peary set a new "farthest north" record, just 175 miles short of the Pole, but due to a dangerous shortage of supplies, Peary was forced to turn back.
In February 1909 Peary and six sledge teams left Cape Columbia on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. Peary, Henson and four Eskimo companions comprised one team and together they inched their way northward until, on April 6, they stood where no one had ever stood before -- the North Pole.
In 1911 the U.S. Congress officially recognized Peary's achievement and in March of that year he was granted the rank of rear admiral. Robert E. Peary died on Feb. 20, 1920, in Washington, D.C., and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 23. President Warren G. Harding presided over the ceremonies, which were attended by such notables as William Howard Taft.
In the late 1920s, as plans proceeded for erecting a monument to Robert Peary at Arlington Cemetery, the National Commission of Fine Arts initiated a study for a more exposed and accessible area, specifically within the vicinity of the Coast Guard Monument. The Commission considered the original gravesite practically impossible to develop because of the location of the lot on the side of a hill and in a cramped section of the cemetery. The Commission proposed an alternate site on the far western side of Arlington.
The proposal was supported by the Peary family and the National Geographic Society. Peary's remains were disinterred from Section 3, Lot 1853-B and reinterred in Section 8, Special Lot S-15. The monument, which was erected on the new lot shortly thereafter, is white Maine Granite. At the point on the globe which represents the North Pole is a three-inch bronze star. The monument is oriented so this star points to the north. The design of the monument was in accord with suggestions Adm. Peary dictated to his wife shortly before his death.