A History Lesson With Booze ®

Former Friends Fighting for (North) Pole Position

In 1909, former friends Robert Peary and Frederick Cook became bitter rivals over competing claims to have lead the first expedition to reach the North Pole.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Forget Ali vs. Frazier. The biggest fight of the 20th century? Was Robert Peary versus Frederick Cook.

They were both explorers, and they both loved cold places. Cook claimed to be the first guy to summit Alaska’s Mount McKinley. While Peary specialized in expeditions into the vast Arctic Circle.

The two were friendly rivals until 1909. That’s when Peary returned from an Arctic expedition and announced he and his crew had reached the North Pole. The first men ever to do it. Only problem? Just weeks before, Cook had returned from a long Arctic expedition – and announced he had reached the Pole… a year earlier.

A public battle ensued. Newspapers polled readers about which man they believed. Peary’s supporters painted Cook as a fraud, who not only hadn’t reached the Pole but never summited McKinley, either. Eventually, a Congressional committee was convened to weigh the evidence. They named Peary “first man to the Pole.”

That’s still what history books say. But is it the truth? Who knows? True, Cook’s own crewmen later contradicted his polar claims. And turns out he did fib about the whole McKinley thing. But Peary’s claims are suspect too. In the 1980s, several studies of his records concluded he’d missed the Pole by miles. In 1988, The New York Times issued a correction to its 1909 article claiming Peary the victor.

Update 3/25/2016: Maybe neither Cook nor Peary was first. In which case, the runners up were probably a crew who got to the Pole decades later in 1968… using snowmobiles. There was also an expedition in 1926, in which a crew of airmen floated over the North Pole in a blimp.


The Bitter Explorer

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Iced up by Bob Pokorney, bartender at Lavelle’s Bistro in Fairbanks, Alaska, which is about as close as one can get to the Arctic Circle and still get a cocktail…


  • 2 ounces American whiskey
  • 2 ounces Campari
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Ice
  • Champagne to top


Combine whiskey, Campari, bitters, and ice in a blender. Blend until Arctic-level ice-slush is achieved. Scoop into glass. Top with Champagne.



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