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The Polar Controversy between Frederick Cook and Robert Peary (June 2021): The Role of Periodical Literature

by Robert M. Bryce

The Role of Periodical Literature

Polar expeditions were unique in that every explorer who survived one invariably wrote a personal account of his experiences, and Cook and Peary were no exceptions. After Cook’s original summary appeared in the Herald, the paper serialized a fuller account in twelve parts from September to October 1909, entitled “The Conquest of the Pole.” Peary’s exclusive account, entitled “How Peary Reached the North Pole,” appeared in three parts in the New York Times, then one of the Herald’s lesser rivals. As the dispute was taken up by the respective newspapers, it became a press war between them. In fact, Peary’s victory was no mean factor in making the Times into the institution it eventually became and in leading to the decline and eventual demise of the once mighty Herald. Indeed, the fact that the Times, among the fifty-five New York dailies of that era, is the only newspaper for which a comprehensive index exists today, makes for decidedly pro-Peary reading when following its coverage of the controversy’s daily developments.

The multitudinous weekly and monthly magazines of the time were no less important in furnishing the raw material on which the early books exploring the intricacies of the dispute were based. This vast periodic literature is easier to access than newspaper accounts, and both explorers’ original telegraphic dispatches were reprinted in a few notable sources, most conveniently in the October 1909 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Cook’s serial was also partly published in the pages of The Journal of American History in 1909, a partial reprint of his account in the Herald, but was never completed following the debacle in Copenhagen. Later, Hampton’s Magazine printed important firsthand accounts from both explorers, publishing Peary’s in 1910 and Cook’s in 1911. For those with access, these and scores of stories related to the dispute can be accessed through EBSCO’s The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature covering the years 1909–16.