How San Francisco's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

istock
istock

San Francisco’s modern history began after the United States claimed California during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The city was originally known as Yerba Buena until Lt. Washington A. Bartlett renamed it the following year. Since then, the city’s seven by seven miles have divided into distinct neighborhoods that have witnessed the height of the Gold Rush to LGBT rights to the current tech boom. But do you know how the city’s neighborhoods got their names? Here’s an extensive (if not quite comprehensive) list of the City by the Bay's origins.

Bayview-Hunters Point

Peter Merholz

This hyphenated neighborhood is located at the southeastern point of San Francisco. Bayview presumably comes from its proximity to the Bay. Hunters Point is named after John, Phillip, and Robert Hunter, three brothers who acquired José Cornelio Bernal’s land in 1842.

Bernal Heights

IMLS

Bernal Heights used to be part of Rincon de las Salinas and Potrero Nuevo. In 1839, the Mexican government granted the land to Jose Cornelio Bernal, a Spanish soldier who was part of the Anza expedition. The land was divided in the 1860s. Soon after, Irish immigrants inhabited the land as dairy farmers.

The Castro

torbakhopper

The Castro is San Francisco’s LGBT mecca, but its name is derived from a Commanding General from the Mexican-American War, José Castro. He led the opposition to the American occupation with Juan B. Alvarado, who served as California’s governor between 1836 and 1842.

Chinatown

Alden Jewell

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest in North America. The first two Chinese immigrants arrived on the Eagle, an American brig, in 1848. The first Asian church in North America, Old St. Mary’s, was built in 1853. Of course, people came for the Gold Rush, but other immigrants made the journey after natural disasters hit China in quick succession after their loss to Great Britain in the first Opium War.

Cow Hollow

recities

In the mid-1800s, this neighborhood on the northeastern side of the city was called Spring Valley for its freshwater springs. But it quickly became known for something else: dairy farming. Even though the cows are gone, the name Cow Hollow stuck.

Crocker-Amazon

This area is named after Charles Crocker, the man who founded the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s, and was one of the Big Four in Nob Hill. The neighborhood is also named after Amazon Street in the Excelsior District.

Diamond Heights

IMLS

Diamond Heights was the last undeveloped area of Rancho San Miguel. However, after the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was established in 1950, this area’s 300 acres became its first development project. Using a combination of federal, state, city, and county funds, the agency called the area Diamond Heights.

Dogpatch

Jesse Mullan

The Dogpatch was called "Butchertown" until the 1960s. At the time, slaughterhouses covered the neighborhood. However, it’s unclear how it became known as the Dogpatch. One rumor is hungry canines waited for scraps of meat outside the abattoirs.

Duboce Park

Wikimedia Commons

Victor Donglaim Duboce was a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War, eventually elected to be part of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. After he died in 1900, the other Supervisors named this patch of land after him.

The Embarcadero

Wikimedia Commons

Spanish for "wharf," the Embarcadero saw more than 700 vessels enter the waterfront district between April and December 1849. The Gold Rush wasn’t the only appeal for residents to set up camp here. It served as one of the Barbary Coast’s premiere sites for saloons and prostitution until 1911. Mayor James Rolph cleaned up the area, favoring a produce district over debauchery.

Excelsior

The Excelsior was part of the Rancho Rincon de las Salinas Y Potrero Viejo. The name Excelsior Homestead was filed at city hall on April 15, 1869.

Financial District

Kevin Lund

After the United States took San Francisco from Mexico in 1847, the traditional communal landholding system ended. The town commons and waterfront were auctioned off and land was quickly bought. But the Financial District sits on what used to be Yerba Buena Cove. It was filled in the 1850s as San Franciscans abandoned their ships to take part in the Gold Rush and the area quickly became the city’s financial center.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Pedro Szekely

Most locals avoid Fisherman’s Wharf. Aside from astounding views of Alcatraz, it’s littered with novelty shops and souvenirs. But the incredible boats that line the Bay showcase its history. They belong to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Italian fishermen who were drawn to San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

Forest Hill

Forest Hill exists on the south and west sides of Twin Peaks. It was originally called Mount Parnassus in 1886 when Adolph Sutro planned for thousands of Bluegum eucalyptus trees to be planted in celebration of Arbor Day. However, 12 years after Sutro died in 1898, his heirs hired A.S. Baldwin to assess the land. He eventually bought the area to be developed by the Newell-Murdoch Company into a residence park, completed in 1913. It became known as Forest Hill for its pines, cypress, and eucalyptus trees.

Golden Gate Park

Andrew Smith

Golden Gate Park was a wasteland of dunes owned by the United States government until the City and County of San Francisco’s petition for it succeeded in 1866. Surprisingly, the term “Golden Gate,” which is also the name of San Francisco’s famous bridge, doesn’t come from the Gold Rush. Its origins come from John C. Fremont naming the Golden Gate Strait in his 1848 memoirs.

Haight-Ashbury

Aboutmytrip

San Francisco’s hippie epicenter got its hyphenated name from two men: Henry Haight, a banker who became the 10th governor of California in 1867, and Munroe Ashbury, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors between 1864 and 1870. Both men were actively involved in the development of Golden Gate Park.

Hayes Valley

torbakhopper

This high-end area of San Francisco used to be full of prostitution and crime. It was named after an Irish immigrant, Colonel Michael Hayes, who allegedly dueled with pistols and supported slavery. He constructed a beautiful Victorian home in the 1880s for individuals to enjoy their vices, but he also had ulterior motives: The home was a bid to extend a streetcar line into the area.

Ingleside

Ingle is Celtic for "fireplace," while an ingleside is the area beside it. That’s why Cornelius Stagg named his new roadhouse The Ingleside Inn in 1885. Within a few years, locals referred to the whole area as Ingleside.

Lakeshore

Lakeshore gets its name for its proximity to Lake Merced. Originally named “Laguna de Nuestra Senora de la Merced” (“The Lake of Our Lady of Mercy”) by Captain Don Bruno de Heceta in 1775, the surrounding area was developed in the 1950s after the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department acquired jurisdiction from the Public Utilities Commission.

The Marina

Shayan

Directly west of Cow Hollow overlooking the Bay is the Marina. Before its stunning houses were built, it consisted of tidal marshlands and dunes. After the devastating 1906 earthquake decimated parts of the city, residents gathered debris and put it here. It became the area’s foundation. In 1915, the Marina served as the location of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Its close proximity to the water and harbors helped inspire San Franciscans to rebuild and grow their city.

The Mission

Big Swift

Father Palou was a Spanish priest in the 18th century. He established a church on June 29, 1776 at Laguna de Dolores. It became the first building in the city and was named Mission Dolores. A few years later in 1783, the church moved to what we now know as 16th and Dolores. It’s the base of the Mission today.

Mission Bay

Eric Fredericks 

Mission Bay describes the neighborhood’s location, which is east of Mission and west of the Bay. The area’s development started in 1998 and showcases San Francisco’s radical growth due to the Internet, with start-up offices replacing the neighborhood’s former rail yards.

Nob Hill

Sharat Ganapati

Nob Hill is named after its early settlers from the late 1800s. They were reportedly a highly successful, criminal bunch. “Nob” comes from Nabob, a Hindu word describing wealthy, powerful Europeans making their fortunes in the East. The “Nobs” included “Bonanza King” James Flood and James Fair. But perhaps most important were Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford. They were known as the Big Four, a group that invested in the first intercontinental railroad. The neighborhood remains affluent to this day (locals sometimes refer to it as “Snob Hill”).

Noe Valley

torbakhopper

Pio Pico, the Mexican governor of California in 1846, gave approximately one-sixth of San Francisco to Jose de Jesus Noe. The land was called Rancho San Miguel before Noe began to sell it in 1852. Today, the land he owned includes Noe Valley, the Castro, Glen Park, and more.

North Beach

Dustin Gaffke

In its early days, North Beach was an actual beach until the coast was augmented. Immigrants from Europe, South America, and the Australian penal colonies made their way to the Barbary Coast’s North Point docks. As such, its name is a geographical marker for the neighborhood’s spot in the Bay. The late 1800s saw an influx of Italians making their way to the area, also making it San Francisco’s Little Italy. According to legend, the Italian-Americans allegedly saved the area, draping their houses in wine-soaked blankets to avoid fires caused by the 1906 earthquake.

Pacific Heights

Aboutmytrip

Pacific Heights is south of the Marina and stands tall at 371 feet. Similar to Russian Hill and Nob Hill, the early residents of the late 1800s were very wealthy. They made their way to the area after the cable-car line was built to the neighborhood.

Parkside

William Crocker bought what is now Parkside from Adolph Sutro in July 1905. Its name refers to its proximity to the trees at Pine Lake, which was then called Laguna Puerca.

Potrero Hill

Bernt Rostad

Don Francisco de Haro, the former Alcalde of Yerba Buena, acquired a land grant in 1835 to graze cattle from the Mission, which sits directly west of the neighborhood. It was called Potrero Nuevo then, which translates to "New Pasture." The area eventually dropped its nature-inspired surname when the city’s mayor, Dr. John Townsend, divided the land into a grid in 1849. Companies like the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company and the Western Sugar refinery made the area their industrial base. Potrero stands 300 feet high.

The Presidio

Amanda

Presidio means "fortress" in Spanish. Established in 1776, it’s the oldest installation in the western part of the United States. It initially served as an outpost for Spain’s military until Mexico took it over. Twenty four years later, America gained control in 1846. The Presidio was an active installation until it was passed over to the National Park Service in 1994. Two years later, Congress developed a federal agency to preserve its historical and scenic integrity.

The Richmond

An Australian-born art dealer, George Turner Marsh, thought the Inner and Outer Richmond resembled sand dunes from Richmond, Australia. At least that’s how one story goes. Others credit a man named George Fletcher for coming up with the name. The area rose to prominence after the 24th mayor of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro, built transportation services to it.

Russian Hill

Patrick Nouhailler

Russian Hill is known for Lombard Street’s sharp curves, beautiful architecture, and cable cars. It originated in 1850 when a minister, Bayard Taylor, discovered seven marked graves at the top of the hill, which sits at 343 feet. Little is known about who the buried men were. Some say they were merchant sailors, while others say they were fur trappers. But their tombs were inscribed in Cyrillic, giving the hill its name. Unfortunately, the markers were removed during Russian Hill’s development in the 1850s.

SoMA

torbakhopper

SoMA, an abbreviation for South of Market, might sound like a SoHo knockoff to New Yorkers. In a way, it is. Market Street runs from the port of San Francisco into Eureka Valley and the industrial SoMA sits directly underneath. But originally its name was South of the Slot, referring to the apparatuses that carried cable cars.

Sunnyside

Wikimedia Commons

San Franciscan Behrend Joost was supposed to provide dredging services to create a canal in Panama in the late 1880s. It was a failed attempt, but left him with enough money to start the “Sunny Side Land Company,” which bought and developed the land in the 1890s.

The Sunset

SF Brit

The Sunset used to be called Outside Lands, a name now reserved for the city’s yearly music and arts festival in Golden Gate Park. However, the once barren land remained property of the United States government from 1848 until 1866, and it’s unknown exactly when Outside Lands became The Sunset. Some claim a property owner and developer, Aurelius Buckingham, named it so. A separate theory suggests the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, also called The Sunset City, was the source of inspiration. Still, there’s also speculation it was the result of a neighborhood organization.

Telegraph Hill

Roger Wollstadt

Telegraph Hill was a semaphore built in 1849 used to identify ships entering San Francisco. The Spaniards called the area Loma Alta before that, which translates to High Hill. It also has one of San Francisco’s best landmarks, Coit Tower, as well as an invasive species of parrot, cherry-headed conures, originally from Ecuador.

The Tenderloin

Ken Lund

The Tenderloin isn’t far from Nob Hill and Russian Hill. In fact, its boundaries are blurred. Many locals call the northern side underneath Nob Hill the Tendernob. Despite its ritzy neighbors, the Tenderloin gets a bad rap as a home to drug deals, prostitutes, and confrontational strangers. This gritty disposition helped the Tenderloin earn its name. Police officers working there in the 1930s were compensated with higher wages, and they took to calling the area "tenderloin," after the better cuts of meat they could afford.

Twin Peaks

Melodie Mesiano

Twin Peaks was originally called Los Pechos de la Choca in the 18th century, which translates to “Breasts of the Maiden.” The adjacent peaks’ elevation is 922 feet, giving it some of the best views of the Bay Area. The name changed after Americans took control of San Francisco in the 19th century.

Union Square

Tony Fischer

Union Square is San Francisco’s main cultural center for retail shopping. There’s also an urban park bordered by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets. But it was originally built and named in 1850 by San Francisco’s first mayor, John Geary, inspired by the pro-Union rallies that took place there before and during the Civil War.

Visitacion Valley

Wikimedia Commons

Legend has it that Visitacion Valley got its name in 1777 when friars got lost in the Bay Area’s fog. As it lifted, they found themselves in the valley on the same day as the feast of the Blessed Virgin. Some suggest they saw a vision on a rock.

The Western Addition

Aboutmytrip

As San Francisco expanded beyond its west boundary on Larkin Street in the 1850s, the result was the geographically named Western Addition. However, this section of San Francisco can also be broken into different neighborhoods that have their own distinct names. For example, the current Japantown was built in 1968, but its history extends back to the 1920s and 30s when Japanese immigrants filled 30 blocks. They were forced out during World War II, and in the 1950s when the area was being gentrified. The Fillmore District was named after President Millard Fillmore at the end of the 19th century. NoPA, a fairly recent term, is used to describe the area North of the Panhandle, an elongated section of Golden Gate Park.

BONUS: Alcatraz

Ramey Logan

Spanish naval officer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala called Yerba Buena Island, the small spot that sits between San Francisco and Oakland, Isla de Alcatraces, which translates to “Island of the Pelicans.” Seventy two years later, the United States military began fortifying a different island in the Bay, Alcatraz Island, inspired by Ayala’s pelicans.

The 10 Best Memorial Day 2020 Sales

iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth
iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth

The Memorial Day sales have started early this year, and it's easy to find yourself drowning in offers for cheap mattresses, appliances, shoes, and grills. To help you cut through the noise and focus on the best deals around, we threw together some of our favorite Memorial Day sales going on right now. Take a look below.

1. Leesa

A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
Leesa

Through May 31, you can save up to $400 on every mattress model Leesa has to offer, from the value-minded Studio by Leesa design to the premium Leesa Legend, which touts a combination of memory foam and micro-coil springs to keep you comfortable in any position you sleep in.

Find it: Leesa

2. Sur La Table

This one is labeled as simply a “summer sale,” but the deals are good only through Memorial Day, so you should get to it quickly. This sale takes up to 20 percent off outdoor grilling and dining essentials, like cast-iron shrimp pans ($32), a stainless steel burger-grilling basket ($16), and, of course, your choice of barbeque sauce to go along with it.

Find it: Sur la Table

3. Wayfair

KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Sale on Wayfair.
Wayfair/KitchenAid

Wayfair is cutting prices on all manner of appliances until May 28. Though you can pretty much find any home appliance imaginable at a low price, the sale is highlighted by $130 off a KitchenAid stand mixer and 62 percent off this eight-in-one GoWise air fryer.

And that’s only part of the brand’s multiple Memorial Day sales, which you can browse here. They’re also taking up to 40 percent off Samsung refrigerators and washing machines, up to 65 percent off living room furniture, and up to 60 percent off mattresses.

Find it: Wayfair

4. Blue Apron

If you sign up for a Blue Apron subscription before May 26, you’ll save $20 on each of your first three box deliveries, totaling $60 in savings. 

Find it: Blue Apron

5. The PBS Store

Score 20 percent off sitewide at Shop.PBS.org when you use the promo code TAKE20. This slashes prices on everything from documentaries like Ken Burns’s The Roosevelt: An Intimate History ($48) and The Civil War ($64) to a Pride & Prejudice tote bag ($27) and this precious heat-changing King Henry VIII mug ($11) that reveals the fates of his many wives when you pour your morning coffee.

Find it: The PBS Store

6. Amazon

eufy robot vacuum.
Amazon/eufy

While Amazon doesn’t have an official Memorial Day sale, the ecommerce giant still has plenty of ever-changing deals to pick from. Right now, you can take $100 off this outdoor grill from Weber, $70 off a eufy robot vacuum, and 22 percent off the ASUS gaming laptop. For more deals, just go to Amazon and have a look around.

7. Backcountry

You can save up to 50 percent on tents, hiking packs, outdoor wear, and more from brands like Patagonia, Marmot, and others during Backcountry's Memorial Day sale.

Find it: Backcountry

8. Entertainment Earth

Funko Pops on Sale on Entertainment Earth.
Entertainment Earth/Funko

From now until June 2, Entertainment Earth is having a buy one, get one half off sale on select Funko Pops. This includes stalwarts like the Star Wars and Batman lines, and more recent additions like the Schitt's Creek Funkos and the pre-orders for the upcoming X-Men movie line.

Find it: Entertainment Earth

9. Moosejaw

With the promo code SUNSCREEN, you can take 20 percent off one full-price item at Moosejaw, along with finding up to 30 percent off select items during the outdoor brand's summer sale. These deals include casual clothing, outdoor wear, trail sneakers, and more. 

Find it: Moosejaw

10. Osprey

Through May 25, you can save 25 percent on select summer items, and 40 percent off products from last season. This can include anything from hiking packs and luggage to outdoorsy socks and hats. So if you're planning on getting acquainted with the great outdoors this summer, now you can do it on the cheap.

Find it: Osprey

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

13 Facts About Robert E. Peary, North Pole Explorer

Christie's, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Christie's, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Robert Edwin Peary, called "one of the greatest of all explorers," claimed to have been the first person to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909. But from the moment his achievement was announced to the world, Peary was mired in a controversy that overshadowed his other accomplishments as a skilled civil engineer, natural historian, and expedition leader. Here are a few things you should know about this daring Arctic adventurer.

1. Robert Peary was extremely close to his mother.

Robert Edwin Peary was born May 6, 1856, in Cresson, Pennsylvania, an industrial town in the Allegheny Mountains. His father died when he was 3, and his mother, Mary Wiley Peary, returned with her son to her home state of Maine. As an only child, Peary formed a close bond with his mother, and when he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, they lived together in rooms off campus. When Peary married Josephine Diebitsch, Mary accompanied the couple on their honeymoon on the Jersey Shore and then moved in with the newlyweds, to Josephine's utter surprise. The explorer confided all of his aspirations to his mother throughout his life. In one prophetic letter to her following his first expedition to Greenland in 1886, he wrote:

"I will next winter be one of the foremost in the highest circles in the capital, and make powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead of letting it come as it will ... remember, mother, I must have fame, and I cannot reconcile myself to years of commonplace drudgery and a name late in life when I see an opportunity to gain it now."

2. Robert Peary had a side hustle as a taxidermist.

Peary enjoyed a childhood spent outdoors playing sports and studying natural history. After graduating from college with a degree in civil engineering, Peary moved to his mother's hometown of Fryeburg, Maine, to work as a county surveyor. But the county had little need for a surveyor, and to supplement his income, he taxidermied birds. He charged $1.50 for a robin and $1.75 to $2.25 for ducks and hawks.

3. Before he went to the North Pole, Robert Peary went to Nicaragua.

Portrait of Robert Peary
Robert Peary in his naval uniform
The American Museum Journal, Wikimedia Commons // No Known Copyright Restrictions

In 1881, Peary was commissioned by the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, which made him a naval officer with a rank equivalent to lieutenant. Three years later, renowned civil engineer Aniceto Menocal picked Peary to lead a field party to survey an area in Nicaragua for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Peary's ability to hack through thick jungle and scale mountains impressed Menocal enough that he hired Peary for a second survey of Nicaragua in 1887, this time with a well-funded, 200-person operation.

4. Robert Peary met Matthew Henson in a Washington, D.C. hat shop.

Though some details of the encounter differ, Peary met his eventual polar partner Matthew Henson at B.H. Stinemetz & Son, a hatter and furrier at 1237 Pennsylvania Avenue. Peary needed a sun helmet for his second trip to Nicaragua. He also needed to hire a valet. The shop's owner recommended his clerk, Henson, who surely impressed Peary with his years of experience on ships. Henson accompanied Peary to Nicaragua and on every Arctic expedition thereafter, including the successful North Pole excursion in 1908-1909.

5. Robert Peary made seven trips to the Arctic.

Peary's first trip to Greenland occurred in 1886 between his two trips to Central America. With a Danish companion, he trekked 100 miles across the Greenland ice cap but had to turn back when food ran low.

During his second and third expeditions (1891-1892 and 1893-1895), Peary, Henson, and company traversed the northern end of the ice cap and established that Greenland's land did not extend to the North Pole. On his fourth trip (1896-1897) [PDF], he brought back meteorites for the American Museum of Natural History. Peary's fifth and sixth expeditions (1898-1902 and 1905-1906) tested a feasible route to the North Pole and established relationships with Inughuit communities on which Peary would rely for assistance and supplies. Peary and Henson finally reached the North Pole on the seventh expedition in 1908-1909.

6. Robert Peary's successes in Greenland contrasted with two previous polar disasters.

Robert Peary in furs
Robert Peary, in fur clothing, stands on the deck of the Roosevelt.
Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1879, newspaper mogul James Gordon Bennett and Navy commander George Washington DeLong organized an expedition to reach the North Pole via the Bering Strait in a reinforced ship, the Jeannette. After months of besetment, ice crushed the ship and the crew made a desperate escape to Siberia, where all but two members died. Then, Army lieutenant Adolphus Greely led a 25-member magnetic survey expedition to the Canadian high Arctic in 1881. Relief ships failed to reach them for three years. By the time rescue arrived and they returned home, only Greely and five other men had survived starvation. The public's appetite for polar adventure waned until, a few years later, Peary's triumphs in Greenland earned him a heroic reputation and revived interest the quest for the North Pole. 

7. Robert Peary lost eight toes to frostbite.

On the grueling march to establish his camp at Greely's abandoned Fort Conger on the 1898-1902 expedition, Peary suffered a severe case of frostbitten feet. When they reached the hut, Henson took off Peary's footwear and revealed marble-like flesh up to his knees. As Henson removed the commander's socks, eight of Peary's toes popped off with them. As Bradley Robinson writes in the Henson biography Dark Companion, Peary reportedly said, "a few toes aren't much to give to achieve the Pole."

8. Robert Peary's wife Josephine accompanied him to the Arctic when she was eight months pregnant.

Josephine Diebitsch Peary was a formidable adventurer as well [PDF]. Her father Hermann Diebitsch, a Prussian military leader who had immigrated to Washington, D.C., directed the Smithsonian Institution's exchange system. Josephine worked at the Smithsonian as a clerk before marrying Peary in 1888. Bucking social convention, she insisted on accompanying his second expedition in 1891-1892, and in Greenland she managed the day-to-day operation of the base camp, including rationing provisions, bartering goods, hunting, and sewing furs. She even helped defend the men from a walrus attack by reloading their rifles as fast as they shot them.

She also went on Peary's third Greenland trip when she was eight months pregnant, and gave birth to their daughter Marie Anighito—dubbed the Snow Baby by newspapers—at their camp. In total, Josephine went to Greenland multiple times, wrote three bestselling books, gave lecture tours, was an honorary member of the American Alpine Club and other organizations, and decorated the family's apartment with narwhal tusks, polar bear skins, fur rugs, and other polar trophies.

9. Matthew Henson saved Robert Peary from a charging musk ox.

Cigarette card featuring explorer Matthew A. Henson
A cigarette card for the American Tobacco Company's Hassan Cork Tip cigarettes shows a portrait of Matthew Henson in a fur parka. The card belongs to the "World's Greatest Explorers" series.
American Tobacco Company, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1895, Peary and Henson scouted a route toward the Pole over the northern edge of Greenland’s ice cap, just as they had done on their previous trip in 1891-1892. They reached a promontory called Navy Cliff, in extreme northeastern Greenland, but could go no farther. On the way back to their camp on the northwestern coast, they suffered from exhaustion, exposure, and hunger. Their only chance to make it back to camp was to find game.

As described in Dark Companion, Peary and Henson stumbled upon a herd of musk oxen. Henson and Peary killed several, but in his weakened state, Peary shot and missed one. The animal turned around and charged Peary. Henson picked up his gun and pulled the trigger. "Behind [Peary] came the muffled thud of a heavy, fallen thing, like a speeding rock landing in a thick cushion of snow," Bradley Robinson writes in Dark Companion. "Ten feet away lay a heap of brown, shaggy hair half sunken in a snowdrift."

10. Robert Peary absconded with a 30-ton meteorite.

In 1818, explorer John Ross wrote about several meteorites near Greenland's Cape York that served as the Inughuit's only source of metal for tools. In 1896, Peary appropriated the three huge meteorites from their territory. (By the late 19th century, Inughuit had obtained tools via trade and no longer needed the stones for that purpose.) The largest of the three weighed 30 tons and required heavy-duty equipment to load it onto Peary's ship without capsizing the vessel. 

Josephine Peary sold the meteorites to the American Museum of Natural History for $40,000 (nearly $1.2 million in today's money). They remain on display in the museum's Hall of Meteorites, where custom-built supports for the heaviest one extend into the bedrock of Manhattan island.

11. Theodore Roosevelt was one of Robert Peary's biggest supporters.

Robert Peary and Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt (left) greets Robert Peary on the deck of the S.S. Roosevelt on July 7, 1908. Peary stopped at TR's home in Oyster Bay, New York, before departing on his North Pole quest.
George Borup, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries // Public Domain

Peary and President Theodore Roosevelt shared a dedication to the strenuous life, and TR—who had served as the assistant secretary of the Navy—helped Peary obtain his multi-year leaves of absence from civil engineering work. "It seems to me that Peary has done valuable work as an Arctic explorer and can do additional work which entitles him to be given every chance by this Government to do such work," Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of the Navy William H. Moody in 1903. Peary repaid the favors by naming his custom-built steamship the S.S. Roosevelt.

In 1906, TR presented the explorer with the National Geographic Society's highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, for Peary's attainment of farthest north. Roosevelt also contributed the introduction to Peary's book about his successful quest for the North Pole.

12. Robert Peary met his nemesis, Frederick Cook, more than a decade before their feud.

Frederick Cook, a New York City physician, signed up as the surgeon for Peary's second trip to Greenland in 1891-1892. Neither Peary nor Matthew Henson was very impressed with his wilderness skills. Afterwards, Cook joined an expedition to Antarctica and claimed he summited Denali in Alaska, though his climbing partners disputed that feat.

So when Peary and Henson arrived back in Greenland in September 1909 after attaining the North Pole on April 6, they were shocked to hear that Cook had supposedly reached the Pole in spring 1908 and had announced it to the world just five days before Peary had returned to civilization. "[Cook] has not been at the Pole on April 21st, 1908, or at any other time," Peary told newspapers. "He has simply handed the public a gold brick."

From then on, Peary and his family strenuously defended his claim to the Pole. Cook had left his journals and instruments in Greenland in his dash to announce his discovery to the world, and Peary refused to transport them aboard his ship to New York, so it became Cook's word against Peary's. Peary also had the backing of wealthy funders, The New York Times, and the National Geographic Society, who eventually decided the matter in Peary's favor. But the controversy never went away; as late as 2009, the centennial of Peary's claim, historians and explorers were reexamining Peary's records and finding discrepancies in the distances he traveled each day on his way to the Pole. Cook's journals were lost in Greenland, and he spent time in jail for mail fraud. The jury is still out.

13. Robert Peary advocated for a Department of Aeronautics.

Peary was an early proponent of aviation for exploration as well as military defense. As World War I engulfed Europe, he argued for the creation of an air service, the Department of Aeronautics, that would operate alongside the Army and Navy and could then be used for lifesaving coastal patrol. Peary embarked on a 20-city tour to drum up public support for the Aerial Coastal Patrol Fund and raised $250,000 to build stations along the U.S. coast.

The Navy later implemented many of Peary's suggestions, but the tour left the explorer in frail health. He was diagnosed with incurable pernicious anemia and died on February 20, 1920. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and his gravesite is adorned with a large granite globe inscribed with a motto in Latin, Inveniam viam aut faciam—"I shall find a way or make one."

Additional sources: Dark Companion, The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole