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Exhibits
The North Pole Controversy: A Joking Matter
November 1, 2009 - March 1, 2010
Arctic Museum main galleries

On September 1, 1909, Dr. Frederick A. Cook sent a telegram from Lerwick, Shetland, announcing that he had reached the North Pole in April 1908. One week later, on September 7, Robert E. Peary sent a similar telegram from Indian Harbour, Labrador, announcing that he had been the first to reach the North Pole in April 1909, and that Cook was a liar. These events set off a media frenzy and provided a rich source of material for editorial cartoonists across North America and in Europe. Here we present a series of cartoons from the fall of 1909, illustrating the pointed humor cartoonists brought to the debate.



Pictured above: Walter Tittle, Sounds Natural, Doesn't It?. Life, October 7, 1909. Museum purchase.
<p><b>Nationalism First</b> </p>     The race for the North Pole had long been seen as an international competition. In the face of Peary's and Cook's competing claims to have been the first to reach that elusive spot, some took comfort in the fact that both men were citizens of the United States. The international press expressed some concern over this and linked the American conquest of the Pole to American foreign policy.   <br> <br>   F.A. Moss, <em>I'm Roosting Here Now!</em>, Denver, 1909. Gift of Marita Williams in memory of Dr. H. Franklin Williams.
<p><b>Nationalism First</b> </p>     The race for the North Pole had long been seen as an international competition. In the face of Peary's and Cook's competing claims to have been the first to reach that elusive spot, some took comfort in the fact that both men were citizens of the United States. The international press expressed some concern over this and linked the American conquest of the Pole to American foreign policy.   <br> <br>   Unidentified Artist, <em>Taft At the Wheel – 'Full speed ahead!'</em>, Kladeradatsch, Berlin. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, October 9, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.

<p><b>Early Response</b> </p>     Cartoonists rapidly recognized the humor potential of the North Pole controversy. By September 8, the day after Peary’s announcement first hit the papers, some were already expressing doubt about the truthfulness of Cook’s claim. Diogenes gives himself away as a stand-in for Cook with his comment about burying a copper cylinder at the Pole, something Cook claimed to have done. Early in the controversy, some remembered that journalist Walter Wellman had also attempted to reach the Pole by dirigible from Spitsbergen. He soon disappeared from the controversy, however.   <br> <br>   F. Opper, <em>An Honest Man!</em> New York American, Sept. 8, 1909. Gift of Lawrence F. Rakovan.
<p><b>Early Response</b> </p>     Cartoonists rapidly recognized the humor potential of the North Pole controversy. By September 8, the day after Peary’s announcement first hit the papers, some were already expressing doubt about the truthfulness of Cook’s claim. Diogenes gives himself away as a stand-in for Cook with his comment about burying a copper cylinder at the Pole, something Cook claimed to have done. Early in the controversy, some remembered that journalist Walter Wellman had also attempted to reach the Pole by dirigible from Spitsbergen. He soon disappeared from the controversy, however.   <br> <br>   [Frank Conner?], <em>Throwing Down the Gauntlet</em>. Boston Sunday Globe, Sept. 9, 1909. ProQuest, America’s Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922.

<p><b>Coming on Strong</b> </p>     Peary's rapid and angry response to Cook's claim to have reached the Pole first drew considerable criticism and exposed Peary to some harsh treatment in the media. Cook was not treated any better, however, and most cartoonists took aim at both men.   <br> <br>   Walter Tittle, <em>Sounds Natural, Doesn’t It?</em> Life, October 7, 1909. Museum purchase.
<p><b>Mud-slinging</b> </p>     As the debate over the truthfulness of the Peary and Cook claims grew in rancor, it soon became clear that mud-slinging was common around the North Pole question. Note the amused Inuit onlookers who comment that 'It's more fun than gumdrops.' The press found it hilarious that Cook had included gumdrops in his provisions.    <br> <br>   [Frank Conner?], <em>The Pole is surrounded by Mud</em>, Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 10. 1909. ProQuest, America’s Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922.

<p><b>International Response</b> </p>     The European press was also caught up in the debate, but brought a different perspective to it. In Italy, neither Cook nor Peary came off well, as they competitively kicked around the Pole. An Amsterdam cartoonist was one of the few who recognized that there were others involved in both men's efforts.   <br> <br>   Ninos, <em>Latest Kind of Polo</em>, Fischietto, Turin. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, October 9, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.
<p><b>International Response</b> </p>     The European press was also caught up in the debate, but brought a different perspective to it. In Italy, neither Cook nor Peary came off well, as they competitively kicked around the Pole. An Amsterdam cartoonist was one of the few who recognized that there were others involved in both men's efforts.   <br> <br>   [H.G. Idelz?], <em>Eskimo – 'Nobody says anything about my part in this.'</em> Amsterdammer, Amsterdam. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, October 9, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.

<p><b>Proof</b> </p>     It did not take long for the press to highlight the question of proof. In early September, C.R. Macauley depicted Cook being welcomed by a group of well-dressed question marks, while a Duluth cartoonist expressed distrust of the National Geographic Society's evaluation of Peary's records.   <br> <br>   [artist?], <em>The National Geographic Society is going over Commander Peary’s North Pole records</em>, Duluth News-Tribune, November 2, 1909. ProQuest, America’s Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922.
<p><b>Proof</b> </p>     It did not take long for the press to highlight the question of proof. In early September, C.R. Macauley depicted Cook being welcomed by a group of well-dressed question marks, while a Duluth cartoonist expressed distrust of the National Geographic Society's evaluation of Peary's records.   <br> <br>   C.R. Macauley, <em>Welcoming Dr. Cook</em>, New York World. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, September 18, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.

<p><b>Capitalists at the Pole</b> </p>     For some cartoonists, the North Pole controversy was an opportunity to satirize other aspects of American life. As soon as the news hit, some envisioned ways in which the Pole could be exploited for financial gain. In one case the Pole was transformed into an exclusive playground for millionaires like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan. Others saw the potential for small time entrepreneurs, selling souvenirs and fast food to tourists.   <br> <br>   [Grue?], <em>Now that the North Pole has been Found</em>, Wilkes-Barre Times, Sept. 7, 1909. ProQuest, America’s Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922.
<p><b>Capitalists at the Pole</b> </p>     For some cartoonists, the North Pole controversy was an opportunity to satirize other aspects of American life. As soon as the news hit, some envisioned ways in which the Pole could be exploited for financial gain. In one case the Pole was transformed into an exclusive playground for millionaires like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan. Others saw the potential for small time entrepreneurs, selling souvenirs and fast food to tourists.   <br> <br>   [artist?], <em>The North Pole is Having a Lively Time these Days</em>, Duluth New-Tribune, Sept. 8, 1909. ProQuest, America's Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922.

<p><b>Weary of Peary and Cook</b> </p>     Cartoonists soon tired of the debate and began to suggest ways of ending it, usually involving another polar trek. In late September, Cory, drawing for the Cincinnati Times-Star, was suggesting Peary and Cook head south, while Dugas, in Life (then a humor magazine), would have sent them in the opposite direction.  <br> <br>   Cory, <em>Merely a Suggestion</em>, Cincinnati Times-Star. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, September 25, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.
<p><b>Weary of Peary and Cook</b> </p>     Cartoonists soon tired of the debate and began to suggest ways of ending it, usually involving another polar trek. In late September, Cory, drawing for the Cincinnati Times-Star, was suggesting Peary and Cook head south, while Dugas, in Life (then a humor magazine), would have sent them in the opposite direction.  <br> <br>   Dugas, <em>Why not send Peary and Cook back and let them fight it out?</em> Life, October 7, 1909. Museum Purchase.

<p><b>Making Money</b> </p>     In St. Louis, cartoonist Robert Minor took a cynical view of the controversy, suggesting that at best it was a way of increasing the profits of those involved. Puck magazine also suggested that the competition was essentially about financial gain. Although both Peary and Cook did have exclusive contracts with newspapers and both published books about their adventures, neither got rich on the proceeds.  <br> <br>   Robert Minor, <em>A Profitable Mill</em>, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, October 23, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.
<p><b>Making Money</b> </p>     In St. Louis, cartoonist Robert Minor took a cynical view of the controversy, suggesting that at best it was a way of increasing the profits of those involved. Puck magazine also suggested that the competition was essentially about financial gain. Although both Peary and Cook did have exclusive contracts with newspapers and both published books about their adventures, neither got rich on the proceeds.  <br> <br>   L.M. Glackens, <em>A Coldness Between Them</em>, Puck. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, October 9, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.

<p><b>The Real Polar Star</b> </p>     American children knew that Santa Claus was the true inhabitant of the North Pole. In mid-December, William Donahey, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, suggested that only Santa could truly identify the first person to reach the Pole. By Christmas, Billy Ireland of the Columbus Dispatch, reflecting seasonal sentiment, declared Santa Claus to be 'the real polar hero.'  <br> <br>   William Donahey, <em>'Santy, did ye ever see 'em in these parts before?'</em> Cleveland Plain Dealer. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, December 18, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.
<p><b>The Real Polar Star</b> </p>     American children knew that Santa Claus was the true inhabitant of the North Pole. In mid-December, William Donahey, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, suggested that only Santa could truly identify the first person to reach the Pole. By Christmas, Billy Ireland of the Columbus Dispatch, reflecting seasonal sentiment, declared Santa Claus to be 'the real polar hero.'  <br> <br>   Billy Ireland, <em>The Real Polar Hero</em>, Columbus Dispatch. Reproduced in The Literary Digest, December 25, 1909. Bowdoin College Library.