Matthew A. Henson

Matthew A. Henson, co-discoverer of North Pole (File photo / February 1, 2007)

Matthew A. Henson
1866-1955

Matthew Henson was born Aug. 6, 1866, in Charles County. He went to sea at the age of 13.

He spent five years at sea before getting a job in a clothing store in Washington, D.C. There he met Robert E. Peary, a U.S. Navy surveyor, who hired Henson as his personal assistant.

Together Peary and Henson set out to discover a passage to the North Pole. They made several trips to the Artic starting in 1891. On April 6, 1909, after an arduous journey along with Peary and four eskimos, Henson became the first person to set foot on the North Pole.

While Commander Peary was promoted to Rear Admiral, Henson spent most of his time in obscurity. Only later in life did he receive recognition. In 1937 he became first African-American voted into the Explorers Club in New York. He received the Navy Medal in 1945. And in 1954, Henson received public recognition by President Eisenhower at the White House. He died in New York in 1955 and was reburied at Arlington National Cemetery in 1988 next to Peary. A bronze plaque was placed in the Maryland State House in 1960. He wrote "A Negro at the North Pole" in 1912, which has since been republished.

--Paul McCardell