Matthew Henson was the first African-American to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909, along with explorer Robert Peary

Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson was an African American explorer best known as the co-discoverer of the North Pole with Robert Edwin Peary in 1909.

Who Was Matthew Henson?

Famed African American explorer Matthew Henson was hired by explorer Robert Edwin as his valet for expeditions. For more than two decades, they explored the Arctic, and on April 6, 1909, Peary, Henson and the rest of their team made history, becoming the first people to reach the North Pole — or at least they claimed to have. Henson died in New York City in 1955.

Early Life

Matthew Alexander Henson was born on August 8, 1866, in Charles County, Maryland. The son of two freeborn black sharecroppers, Henson lost his mother at an early age. When Henson was 4 years old, his father moved the family to Washington, D.C., in search of work opportunities. His father died there a few years later, leaving Henson and his siblings in the care of other family members. 

At the age of 11, Henson left home to find his own way. After working briefly in a restaurant, he walked all the way to Baltimore, Maryland, and found work as a cabin boy on the ship Katie Hines. Its skipper, Captain Childs, took Henson under his wing and saw to his education, which included instruction in the finer points of seamanship. During his time aboard the Katie Hines, he also saw much of the world, traveling to Asia, Africa and Europe.

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