Mental Floss Presents: The Quest for the North Pole

Mental Floss Presents: The Quest for the North Pole

Many wanted to claim its discovery—but only one could be the first. In The Quest for the North Pole, a new podcast from Mental Floss and iHeartRadio, we'll dive into the adventure, excitement, and danger surrounding our obsession with the North Pole. In each weekly episode, we'll analyze the motives and celebrate the triumphs of the people who sought the northernmost point on the globe, from the questionable methods of early explorers to a century-old controversy that's yet to be settled. In our story, we'll look at Sir John Franklin's brave but disastrous attempt, Fridtjof Nansen's innovations for polar travel, and Robert E. Peary's expeditions with Matthew Henson—and the way Peary robbed Henson of the credit he deserved.

Episodes

January 12, 2022 21 min

In the final bonus episode of The Quest for the North Pole, we travel to far northwestern Greenland to see the changing Arctic firsthand. We explore the long history of this area, from its settlement by Indigenous people, to the expeditions of Peary and Rasmussen, to secret military operations during the Cold War. With scientists from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, we visit a climate-monitoring station atop the Gre...

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On their many attempts to reach the North Pole, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson spent a lot of time in northwest Greenland. So much time that they, like many explorers before them, formed intimate relationships with Inughuit women. Their sons from those unions, Kali Peary and Anaukaq Henson, grew up in their Arctic communities never knowing their fathers.


But in the 1980s, an ambitious Harvard neuroscientist brought Kali and Anaukaq...

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Before Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole, he led several expeditions to northern Greenland. But they were more than just scouting trips. He brought back three legendary meteorites from the Arctic, which are still on display in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Peary also brought people—six Inughuit who had helped him retrieve the meteorites, including a young boy named Minik. 


In this special bonu...

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The demise of the Franklin Expedition remains the most compelling puzzle in Arctic exploration. Sir John Franklin was a veteran of three previous polar voyages, recognized for his bravery and resourcefulness, and admired for his grit. The British Admiralty chose him to lead what it hoped would be its last stab at finding the Northwest Passage. In 1845, two lavishly provisioned ships with 129 crew members entered Lancaster Sound, th...

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March 13, 2021 46 min

Global warming is changing the Arctic rapidly. Explorers of the past would barely recognize its green tundra, diminished glaciers, and ice-free seas. We’ll hear from journalists and historians who have followed in the footsteps of the explorers, and discovered their original routes have disappeared. What do these changes mean for the people who live there now, and our relationship to the Arctic today? Are there still places left to...

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March 5, 2021 38 min

In 1968, decades after Peary’s and Cook’s competing stories emerged, a Minnesota insurance salesman named Ralph Plaisted was sitting in a bar, talking to a friend about snowmobiles. His friend said that if snowmobiles were so great, he should be able to ride one to the North Pole. Plaisted accepted the challenge. Thus began one of the most improbable expeditions, led by one of the unlikeliest adventurers, ever made to the Pole—a jo...

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February 26, 2021 62 min

Robert E. Peary expected glowing accolades and worldwide fame for being first at the North Pole. But a New York physician named Frederick Cook said he had been first. Peary sensed his glory being snatched from his grasp—and mounted a relentless campaign in the press to prove his claim. And Henson? He supported his longtime expedition leader—though Peary didn’t return the favor. He had no more use for his loyal assistant after they ...

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February 19, 2021 44 min

Peary and Henson had one more shot at the North Pole in them. With their trusted Inughuit partners in Greenland, they spent months in the Arctic preparing for their dash to the Pole in spring 1909. And after traveling over hundreds of miles of dangerous ice, they believed they had reached their goal: They were the first men to stand at the top of the world. Or were they? Before Peary could claim his laurels, another explorer declar...

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February 13, 2021 58 min

No explorer tried harder or over a longer time to claim the North Pole than Robert Edwin Peary, a tough Mainer who suffered setbacks that would have permanently discouraged others—he even lost most of his toes to frostbite and still wouldn’t give up his dream. But he wouldn’t have been able to do it without Matthew Henson, his African-American right-hand man on seven grueling expeditions. In this episode, we’ll meet Peary and Henso...

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February 5, 2021 47 min

European explorers often thought of the Arctic as an empty wasteland, and the Indigenous people who lived there as childlike. But as one historian put it, “the real children in the Arctic would be the white explorers.” From Martin Frobisher’s expeditions in the 16th century right up until Robert Peary’s time, Inuit people helped explorers in countless ways—from providing food, to teaching valuable skills, to saving their lives. In ...

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January 29, 2021 48 min

By the second half of the 19th century, British explorers had competition from Americans and Norwegians in the race to claim the North Pole. Nowhere was the contrast in expedition styles more evident than between British naval officer George Strong Nares and Norwegian adventurer Fridtjof Nansen. While Nares stuck to tradition, Nansen ushered in a new era of polar exploration that favored tested theories over wishful thinking, self-...

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January 22, 2021 40 min

In this episode, we’ll dive into the first real attempts to conquer the North Pole in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As explorers pushed farther into uncharted territory, they encountered dangerous icebergs, Arctic mirages, Indigenous communities, and extreme hardship. British explorers like William Edward Parry, John Ross, and John Franklin didn’t have any idea what they were getting into—and paid the price. The learning ...

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January 15, 2021 32 min

The North Pole has attracted explorers for centuries. They faced an unbelievably harsh and dangerous climate, lost fingers and toes to frostbite, or even cut off their own body parts to survive. Many adventurers risked everything to claim it—but why? In our first episode, we’ll meet the generations of explorers who searched for passages to Asia, like Martin Frobisher, William Barents, and Henry Hudson. And we’ll examine how, by the...

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In this new podcast, Mental Floss Presents: The Quest for the North Pole, we’ll dive into the adventure, excitement, and danger surrounding our obsession with the North Pole. Hosted by Kat Long, the science editor at Mental Floss and obsessive fan of polar history, this show will analyze the motives and celebrate the triumphs of the people who sought the northernmost point on the globe. Many wanted to claim its discovery—but only o...

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October 23, 2020 22 min

In this final bonus episode of History Vs., Erin and Mental Floss fact checker Austin Thompson discuss the challenges and delights of tracking down the truth about Theodore Roosevelt—and bust some TR myths, too.

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August 28, 2020 15 min

How Theodore Roosevelt used his big stick diplomacy to make the most of an international incident in an election year.

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June 26, 2020 21 min

Recently, the American Museum of Natural History asked that the city of New York remove the famous equestrian statue of TR—which also features an African figure and a Native American figure in positions submissive to Roosevelt—from the steps outside its Central Park West entrance. In this special episode, we’re taking a look at the statue: Its history, what the artists intended, and why it’s controversial today. Plus, we’ll revisit...

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May 29, 2020 16 min

Famed illusionist Harry Houdini might have been one of the only people to succeed in leaving Theodore Roosevelt truly dumbfounded.

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Theodore Roosevelt has been in the news lately, thanks to a ship with a cargo of coronavirus and a leaked letter to the navy. But more than 100 years ago, TR—that ship's namesake—engaged in a controversial letter-writing campaign of his own, one that incensed the highest levels of government.

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April 3, 2020 11 min

In 1990, Theodore Roosevelt's double action revolver—the one he'd used during the Battle of San Juan Heights—was stolen from Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. It wouldn't come back to the museum for another 16 years.

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