Letter Arranging for the Chemical Analysis of the Famous Ahnighito Meteorite

Signed by Robert E. Peary

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PEARY, ROBERT E. (1856-1920). American admiral and explorer; widely recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. ALS. (“R.E. Peary”). 1p. 8vo. New York, October 18, 1895. On stationery of the Grand Union Hotel, “Opposite Grand Central Station.” To Yale chemistry Professor FRANK AUSTIN GOOCH (1852-1929).

Your favor of the 7th inst, in re analysis of meteoric sample is at hand. Kindly have analysis made as suggested by you & the report forwarded to me at 2014 12th St. N.W. Washington, D.C. I presume that the name of the gentleman making the analysis will accompany the report so that I can give him proper credit when I make use of his results. Thanking you for your kindness I am…”

Robert Peary

In 1891, Peary, accompanied by his wife and team, set off for Greenland to prove by inland exploration that the icy wilderness was in fact an island. Two years later, he sailed on another expedition in an attempt to be the first to reach the North Pole. Despite several setbacks, Peary remained undeterred. He studied Inuit survival techniques and forged warm relations with the native peoples. It was this close relationship that allowed Peary to discern the source of the meteoric iron they used for their tools, information that five previous expeditions, beginning in 1818, had failed to discover. In 1894, Inuit guides took Peary to an island near the coast of Melville Bay to the east of Cape York where there were three nickel-iron meteorites. Peary returned twice in 1896 and 1897 to retrieve the meteorites, the largest of which, “Ahnighito” weighed 31 metric tons. Extracting the meteorites was a staggering feat and required the construction of a railway. Ultimately, Peary sold the meteorites to the American Museum of Natural History for $40,000. A special display had to be erected for “Ahnighito” – the second largest known meteorite in the world – so it could rest directly on the bedrock supporting the museum.

Our letter regards chemical analysis of a sample of the meteorite, which was carried out by J.K. Phelps at Yale, and confirmed that it was composed of iron and nickel. The results were published in his Northward over the Great Ice.

In 1903, Peary was elected president of the American Geographical Society and that autumn he garnered the unexpected support of both the secretary of the navy and President Roosevelt for a return to the arctic. After a failed attempt in 1905, “the next three years were spent in preparation for a final try,” (Great Explorers, Owen). Finally after traveling hundreds of miles across ice in conditions more extreme than any previously encountered, Peary and his team reached the Pole on April 6, 1909. However, his claim was challenged by Dr. Frederick Cook who maintained that he had attained the Pole exactly one year earlier. “In October 1909 a committee of experts appointed by the National Geographic Society examined his records and reported that they were unanimously of the opinion that [Peary] had reached the North Pole… His friends also worked actively to induce Congress to give adequate recognition to his achievements… In March 1911… a bill was passed tendering him the thanks of Congress and placing him on the retired list,” (DAB). Interestingly, Peary’s claim has been challenged in recent years by the very organization he once headed, the American Geographical Society, who has withdrawn its recognition, whereas the National Geographic Society steadfastly continues to uphold Peary’s achievement.

Gooch was a pioneering chemist who devised a number of innovated methods of chemical analysis and published copious papers on his research.

Folded with some discoloration and wear with a small repaired fold tear. In very good condition and uncommon with this content.

Letter Arranging for the Chemical Analysis of the Famous Ahnighito Meteorite

Signed by Robert E. Peary

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