Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920). Polar explorer. Born in Cresson, Pennsylvania. Moved to Maine in early youth after the death of his father. Trained in civil engineering at Bowdoin College, graduating in 1877. He joined the navy as a civil engineer in 1881. After service in Nicaragua, he became fascinated with arctic exploration. He did useful work in mapping the interior of Greenland (although some of his maps were later found to be inaccurate), then devoted his attention to trying to reach the North Pole. Many failed expeditions followed, one of which caused Peary to suffer such severe frostbite that he lost most of his toes. In 1909, he finally claimed to have reached the North Pole, the first man to have done so. Unfortunately, Peary's claims required him to cover almost impossible distances on his way to the Pole, and he was the only person on the final stage of the trip who could read a sextant and thus measure his position. There are substantial reasons to think that Peary did not reach the Pole. Nonetheless his claim was widely accepted and he gained the fame for which he desperately longed. His health began to fail in 1919, perhaps as a result of his exertions when he was younger, and he died in 1920.