Race to the Poles

Frederick Cook
Library of Congress

Frederick Cook, American

Claimed to be first to reach the North Pole in 1908, but couldn't prove it.

Robert Peary, American

New York Daily News Archive via Getty

With Cook's claim in doubt, Peary declared he was first to reach the North Pole in 1909. But experts remain skeptical of his navigation.

Roald Amundsen, Norwegian

Ronald Amundsen
Library of Congress

First to reach the South Pole (1911), and first to cross the Northwest Passage (1903–06). His trip to the North Pole in 1926 was the first to be verified.

Robert Falcon Scott, British

Robert F. Scott
Library of Congress

Reached the South Pole in 1912 only to discover Amundsen had beat him by one month. He and several crew members perished on the return trip.

Ernest Shackleton, Irish

Spencer Arnold/Getty

Led the Nimrod Expedition (1907–09), whose crew was the first to travel on the South Polar plateau.

Edgeworth David, Australian

Edgeworth David

First to reach the magnetic South Pole (1909)—not to be confused with the geographic South Pole.

Douglas Mawson, Australian

George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty

Sole survivor of the Far Eastern Party (1911–14), part of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition to chart and visit the magnetic South Pole.

Richard Evelyn Byrd, American

Imagno via Getty

Claimed to be the first pilot to reach both the North Pole (1926) and the South Pole (1928–30) by air.