The Roosevelt

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center

The Roosevelt

"The Roosevelt fought like a gladiator, turning, twisting, straining with all her force, smashing her full weight against the heavy floes whenever we could get room for a rush, and rearing upon them like a steeplechaser taking a fence."
- Robert E. Peary 1907

In 1902 Robert E. Peary achieved an American record for Farthest North. For Peary, however, determined to reach the Pole, the expedition was a failure. A central cause of this failure, he insisted, was his ship, the Windward. He needed a vessel capable of pushing through the Arctic ice as far north as possible; the closer to the pole his winter camp, the less distance he would need to cover in his springtime sledge trip. With the public support of President Theodore Roosevelt, Peary was able to muster the funds to begin construction of the Roosevelt on Verona Island, Maine.

The ship was expressly designed for Arctic work, and incorporated many innovations. To begin with, the Roosevelt was primarily a steam ship, with sails for auxulliary power. The huge steam engine powered a heavy propeller, which meant the Roosevelt could break through Polar pack ice which had intimidated Peary's previous ship, the Windward. The hull was wood, more flexible than steel, and was heavily reinforced with extra layers of planking and steel trusses. Only 184 feet long and with a shallow draft of 16 feet, a skilled captain could maneuver the vessel through pack ice and close to shore. Finally, winches and windlasses on deck could be used to warp the Roosevelt out of tight positions if necessary.

Under the command of Robert A. Bartlett, the Roosevelt enabled Peary's 1906 push to 87˚6 N, an international record for Farthest North. However, the ship limped home, badly damaged by ice. In 1908, after repairs, Bartlett again guided the Roosevelt North to Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island. This position allowed for Peary's successful assault on the Pole in April of 1909. After Peary's use for the ship ceased, the Roosevelt was used for commercial shipping. On one such journey it ran aground in the vicinity of the Panama Canal, where it now lies on the ocean floor.