Thursday, March 11, 2004

Polar Promotion 

Robert Peary, a much discredited polar explorer today, claimed he was the discoverer of the North Pole in 1909 and was listed as such for much of the 20th Century. In his efforts to raise money for his polar exploits, he used the same language that any sports or event promoter would use today. Here is a paragraph from a history I have been reading called Arctic Grail.

The age of hype was dawning, and Peary was one of its early practitioners. "Of course, you know," he wrote to ( ), "that thousands of people today are using Lipton's Tea who had never heard of Lipton's Tea until they knew of Sir Thomas, through his interest and association with the International Yacht races."

After Peary claimed to reach the Pole -- a claim that has an asterisk today -- he wrote diary notes to himself that are even more in the spirit of modern-day promotion. He was thinking about how to cash in on his forthcoming fame and came up with things to merchandise such as "ivory mounted sledge implements" and "Ivory mounted snowshoes? Think up some ivory articles to be made for the home folks..." Later in the diary, "Present Sextant... to Navy Museum (Annapolis?)." Then, "Have special pair of Peary North Pole" snowshoes made. Raised toe and heel, curved body, lacquered bows, ebony crossbars, silver keel & name plate white gut lacing..."

The man was shameless -- and he got away with it for decades before other explorers and scientists realized he almost certainly lied about his exploit.


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