Verdict of 20th century scholars and geographers

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ROBERT MCGHEE, curator of Arctic Archeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

“Frederick Cook remains as one of the most perceptive as well as the most vilified of polar explorers…Cook had made a discovery that no amount of humiliation could take from him and one that only the most fortunate and observant of arctic explorers ever learned.”Robert McGhee,
“The Last Imaginary Place:  A Human History of the Arctic World”
Oxford University Press, 2005

Dr. McGhee is curator of Arctic Archeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Massey Medalist of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society


FARLEY MOWAT, Canadian author on the Arctic & the Inuit

“What is not so easy to understand is that otherwise intelligent men and women of our day can still be misled by the discredited and discreditable attempts to destroy Cook, his work and his character. Presumably these blind adherents to the verdict of the Establishment remain unaware that modern scientific investigations have established beyond reasonable doubt that if Frederick Cook did not reach the top of the world, he at least came as close to that elusive goal as any other man, and he properly deserves the title of discoverer.” 

(The Polar Passion: Quest for the North Pole, 1968)


If some insist that history must be served, let them remember that the more that we come to understand the physical geography of the Arctic Ocean, the more we recognize phenomena described by Cook but unknown at the time of his journey. (WALTER A. WOOD, Glaciologist, President American Geographical Society – Presentation to the Polar Conference of the National Archives, 1962)

This statement, delivered by an eminent American Polar scientist in 1967 at a National Archives Conference on “United States Polar Exploration” in Washington, DC, has been forgotten and ignored in the third of a century since its delivery, despite the resurgence of discussion about the “Polar Priority” question.

It was given by Dr. Walter A. Wood of the University of Alaska, a president of the American Geographical Society who in 1965 had urged colleagues to review the work of Cook. This is just one of more than 30 attributions by geographers, explorers, scientists and scholars found in the front section of the new reprint edition of My Attainment of the Pole(Polar Publishing, 2001).

Many of the exploration greats of the 20th century are quoted. These include Amundsen, Greely, Emile-Victor, Fiala, Fletcher, Herbert, Malaurie, Nordenskjold, Rasmussen, Svedrup and Zavatti among the many field explorers of both Poles.

This “Verdict of History” compilation includes many scholars, writers and historians who have studied the early 20th century history of Arctic exploration, as well as German, Italian and Russian encyclopedic references cited on the question.

The Wood quote appears on the revised Society web page (cookpolar.org) as well as the book appendix, along with a declaration by Academician V.S. Koryakin, Polar Historian of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who has a commentary in the book: “There is no ground to question the validity of Dr. Cook’s assertion that he reached the North Pole.”


The Verdict of History

Explorers and Researchers on Cook

For most of the 20th century, leading explorers, historians, geographers, researchers and authors have offered opinion and commentary on the question of the Discovery of the North Pole. Overlooked have been the testimony of many of them on the merits of Dr. Cook’s account and his credentials as an explorer. The following is a summation, dates and sources.

ROALD AMUNDSEN of Norway, discoverer of the South Pole, first to transit the Northwest Passage

“We shall always honor Dr. Frederick A. Cook as the first man at the geographical North Pole of the earth. It was a pity that Peary should besmirch his beautiful work by circulating outrageous accusations against a competitor who has won the battle in open field.” (September 1909).

“Upright, honorable, capable and conscientious in the extreme; such is the memory we retain of Frederick A. Cook. He is the most remarkable man I ever met. I would trust no other man as I trust him.” (The South Pole, 19 l 2)

EDWIN SWIFT BALCH, Past President, Philadelphia Geographical Society, author and explorer, also Fellow of the American Geographical Society

“The (vindication of Cook)…may be settled in our lifetime, it may be settled only one or two hundred years hence, but it is certain to be settled eventually by the supreme court of geographical discovery.” (The North Pole & Bradley Land, 1913)

SUSAN BARR , Polar historian of the Norsk Polarinstitut, author

“Cook and Amundsen improved on field equipment Amundsen made his snow goggles for the South Pole trip after Cook’s pattern [and] his tent left at the South Pole was based upon Cook’s design. Amundsen greatly admired Cook both as a person and as a polar explorer. He never forgot his debt to the man for his contribution to the ‘Belgica’ expedition.” (Presentation to the Belgica Symposium, 1997)

JOHN EULLER, Author and writer on Polar topics

“Cook’s description of no land, a continuation of the polar ice pack, essentially a frozen ocean but in a state of continuous motion and upheaval was original, and all subsequent accounts agree with [his] original description.” (Centennial editorial in Arctic, the Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America, 1964)

T.H. Baughman, Polar historian, author

“The men of the ‘Belgica’ survived in large part perhaps entirely because of the expertise and strength of character of Frederick A. Cook [his] knowledge came from real-world experience in the Arctic and his standing among the men of the ‘Belgica’ allowed him to carry out his life saving program.  Cook’s reputation has suffered much over the course of the twentieth century; he deserves better. In the Antarctic, Cook remains a hero.” (Presentation to the Belgica Symposium, 1997)

EXPLORER’S DICTIONARY Dizionario Degli Esploratori, 1967

“In 1908, Cook crossed Ellesmere Land accompanied by two Eskimos, and headed for the Pole, reaching it on 21st April, 1908.”

ANTHONY FIALA Commander, Ziegler Polar Expedition, author

“There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Cook will be vindicated before long. Amundsen told me that he was one of the most honorable men that he had ever met and that they [the ‘Belgica’ expedition members] would all have died in the Antarctic had it not been for him and that [Cook] was undoubtedly the American Dreyfus.” (Letter in the Cook Collection, Library of Congress, 1950)

JOSEPH FLETCHER Colonel U.S. Air Force, Commanding “Ice Island” Station, atmospheric science researcher

“I find it impossible to believe that Dr. Cook was lying. I believe the account of his journey is an honest and reasonable one. It would have been impossible for him to fabricate his story on the basis of his knowledge of ice conditions and movement in the Arctic basin.” (Letter, Byrd Polar Research Archives, 1952)

ADOLPHUS WASHINGTON GREELY, Commander of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition

“Dr. Cook is the Discoverer of the North Pole. I think it was quite unnecessary for any other person to call another a liar and worse than that until the evidence of all parties had been produced.” (Handbook of Polar Discoveries, 1909)

“Dr. Cook’s field experiences in 1908-09 were most remarkable, rarely, if ever, equaled and never surpassed for their extent, duration and experience.” (The Polar Regions in the 20th Century, 1928)

“[In 1924] Greely still tended to support Cook, ‘who was probably nine-tenths right in his claims.'” (Ghosts of Cape Sabine, 2000)

THOMAS F. HALL, Author, ‘Has the North Pole Been Discovered?’

“Cook has furnished to the world every particle of proof that would have been possible for him had he in truth and beyond question actually been to the North Pole and none of his statements has yet been disproven either by witnesses, analysis or by circumstance.” (Chapter 9, 1917)

Sir WALLY HERBERT, Explorer, author, medallist RGS

“Of the two claims, Peary’s is the weaker. Cook’s are perfectly feasible. Of the two the more remarkable journey without any doubt was Cook.” (The North Pole, 1978)

“Peary and Cook though enemies and rivals as Polar explorers were essentially a part of each other as were Shackleton and Scott.” (The Noose of Laurels, 1988)

H.H. HOUBEN, German Polar historian, author

“…Cook settled accounts with Peary as explorer and man in his book [which] did not fail to produce an effect. And today there are few experts who, without wishing to question any of Peary’s merits, would not subscribe to the opinion, based upon detailed examination [that] the North Pole has been reached by Cook.” (The Call of the North, 1932)

VLADISLAV S. KORYAKIN, Academician, Polar historian, Russian Academy of Sciences

“Cook’s descriptions of natural conditions in the Central Arctic do not contradict modern scientific views, meaning they are authentic. Therefore, there is no ground to question the validity of Dr. Cook’s assertion that he reached the North Pole.” (Presentation to the Cook Symposium at the Byrd Center, 1993)

GEORGES LECOINTE, Secretary of the International Bureau of Polar Research

“Upright and honorable, we remember Frederick A. Cook as the explorer who through his leadership and innovation saved the crew of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition. We join with other scientists and explorers in applauding his conquest of the North Pole.” (Frederick A. Cook Papers, letter 1913)

JEAN MALAURIE, Explorer, author, Director of the French Centre for Arctic Studies

“It is clear that Dr. Cook must be considered an extraordinary personality in Polar history a Bonaparte on the ice to his rival Peary.” (Presentation to the Cook Symposium at the Byrd Center, 1993)

“Why would Cook have risked his life, far from his food caches, if he had simply wanted to delineate a short excursion on the Arctic Ocean?” (Ultima Thule, 1990)

BERNARD R. HUBBARD, S.J., Explorer, Alaskan “Glacier Priest”

“The trips made over the North Pole in the last year or so by the United States Air Force bear out Dr. Cook’s description of the Polar area fully.” (Associated Press interview, 1949)

EJNAR MIKKELSEN, Danish explorer of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean

“May I congratulate you? I saw in the newspapers that Congress was going to honor you. I need not tell you that I was very pleased.” (Congressional Record, Letter to Cook, 1914)

OTTO NORDENSKIOLD, Swedish explorer of both Polar regions, geographer

“You can prove the discovery of Northernmost land. The polar discussion should be settled by an International Commission.” (Letter to Dr. Cook, 1912, Cook Papers)

ROBERT E. PEARY, Arctic explorer and claimant to North Pole

“Dr. Cook was the first to volunteer to go on [in the first 1891 expedition on the Greenland ice cap–always helpful and an indefatigable worker [with] unruffled patience and coolness in an emergency.” (Northward Over the Great Ice, 1898)

KNUD RASMUSSEN, Danish explorer of northern Greenland

“I want to express my unreserved admiration for Dr. Cook, a man who with his bare hands has passed a winter at Cape Sparbo, who reached Annoatok, through deep snow, through twisting ice and utter darkness.  That man deserves to be the first at the Pole.  It was the Eskimo opinion that Cook had been at the Pole.” (Politiken,Copenhagen, 1909)

Michael S. Rosove, Physician, Polar historian

“[On the ‘Belgica’ expedition in 1898] Cook and Amundsen took moral command [Cook] endured the crew’s restoration to health and devised a plan to cut ice channels to open water, to free the ship from its icy confines…the ‘Belgica’ accorded [Cook] his just measure of indisputable greatness.” (Let Heroes Speak: Antarctic Explorers, 1722�1922, 2000)

WINFIELD SCOTT SCHLEY, Commander of the Greely Relief Expedition

“l would assure you that I have never varied in my belief that you reached the North Pole as outlined in your narrative.” (Letter to Dr. Cook, Library of Congress, 1911)

OTTO SVERDRUP, Norwegian explorer and discoverer of much of the Queen Elizabeth Islands

“It has always been my pleasure to support Dr. Cook, and I can see no reason for doubting his success. Who are his accusers–surely not Arctic explorers?” (Interview in Copenhagen, 1913)

BERNARD J. STANLEY, Polar scientist, oceanographer with US Northeast Command

“l have made trips to the North Pole and can say honestly that the ice conditions in the vicinity of the Pole were exactly as described by Dr. Cook. I hope that the time will come when complete and unreserved recognition of his work will be a reality.” (Letter, Cook Papers at Byrd Center, 1951).

SOVIET ENCYCLOPEDIA DICTIONARY, Moscow, 1987

“(Polar Explorations) The first to reach the area of the North Pole was the American, F. Cook: (1908).”

BRIAN SHOEMAKER, Captain, USN Ret., Commander of Polar research stations

“The environmental evidence does support Cook’s claims to have traveled from Cape Svartvoeg to the North Pole. His return course became a major scientific discovery because it [located] the northeast end of the Breaufort Gyre.” (Presentation to the Cook Symposium at the Byrd Center, 1993)

STEILERS ATLAS of MODERN GEOGRAPHY, Gotha, Germany

Published by the Perthas Geographical Institute: [North Polar Regions: ” NORDPOL, 21 April, 1908, COOK”]. (1925 edition and subsequent editions)

CHARLES W. THOMAS, Admiral, USCG, Ice commander for Admiral Byrd, oceanographer

“Based upon his discovery of glacial ice between the 87th and 88th parallel, and his observations at the Pole, it is my conviction that on April 21, 1908, Frederick A. Cook reached the North Pole.” (Department of Oceanography, Harvard University, 1970)

A.F. TRESHNIKOV, Academician, Soviet Arctic explorer, Director, Arctic & Antarctic Institute

“It is impossible to imagine that a man (Cook) who had never been to the Central Arctic could have invented many phenomena typical of the region and later described by other explorers.” (Epilogue to Russian edition of Peary’s The North Pole, 1972)

PAULEMILE VICTOR, Explorer, author, Director Expeditions Polaire Francaises

“On [Cook’s] return journey, he drifted west with the [then unknown] Arctic current and had to winter in extreme conditions, finally reaching Greenland. This account seems to me the best proof that he went for the Pole and probably attained it.” (Letter to the Cook Symposium, 1993)

SILVIO ZAVATTI, Explorer, Director, Italian Institute of Polar Geography

“Proof that Cook reached the Pole exists as when he observed that the shadow of one of his two Eskimo companions remained an equal length for 24 hours.  Cook [also] was the first to affirm that there was ice adrift at the Pole, just one of several theories [before his attainment].” (Journal of the Italian Geographical Society, 1967)

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