Public Release: 

Polar Explorer Frederick Cook Collection Given To Ohio State

Ohio State University

on receipt


COLUMBUS -- The papers, letters and documents of Frederick Albert Cook, the first American to explore both the North and South Polar regions, will get a new home at the Archives of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University.

The governing board of the Dr. Frederick A. Cook Society, an organization dedicated to maintaining the memory and accomplishments of Cook, approved the transfer of this collection at its last meeting.

Cook is best known for his claim that he reached the North Pole before another American explorer, Robert Peary, claimed to have done so. In 1907, he left for the North Pole and returned in 1909, announcing that he had reached the Pole on April 21, 1908, a year before Peary.

Born in Hortonville, New York in 1865, he participated in nine expeditions to the Arctic, the Antarctic and Alaska between 1891 and 1909. He was a graduate of New York University medical school and served as surgeon on Robert Peary's North Greenland Expedition in 1891. He was also surgeon and anthropologist with the Belgian Antarctic Expedition in 1898-99.

In 1903, Cook made the first circumnavigation of Mount McKinley and in 1906 claimed to be the first to reach its summit.

Roald Amundson, the Belgium Antarctic Expedition's first mate who would later be the first to reach the South Pole, said that "Cook was the most extraordinary explorer I have ever met." When the expedition's ship was trapped in the Antarctic ice, Cook developed the plan to release it and saved the party from scurvy and anemia. For his role in that rescue, he was knighted by the King of the Belgians.

Cook died in Larchmont, N.Y. in 1940.

Warren Cook, Sr. of Ridgewood, N.Y. a grandnephew of the explorer and president of the Cook Society, said that the Byrd Center "represents the finest possible place to catalogue, index, and make available the work of Dr. Cook in his 20 years of explorations."

The collection of some 24,000 items occupy 40- to 45-linear feet and "represents 30 years of his involvement and communication with some of the leading figures of modern exploration and discovery during the first half of this century," Cook said.

A second collection of Cook's papers had been willed to the Library of Congress in 1989. The Byrd Center and the Library of Congress will work together to insure access to all of the materials at both institutions.

Ken Jezek, director of the Byrd Center, said that OSU competed successfully against two other universities for the Cook collection. The acquisition of the Cook papers "represents an important milestone towards our goal of documenting American contributions to polar science and exploration."

The addition of the Cook Papers to those of distinguished polar explorers Admiral Richard E. Byrd and Sir Hubert Wilkins, will bolster the position of the Center's Archival Program as a leader in the history of polar exploration.

The Cook Society will provide $27,000 for the arrangement and description of Cook the papers and will provide a $10,000 financial gift the first year and additional gifts each year thereafter to maintain the collection. In addition, the Society will have a representative on the advisory board of the Byrd Center's Archival Program.

In August, the Byrd Center will retrieve the papers from Hurleyville, New York, where they have been housed in the Sullivan County Museum. By the end of 1997, a guide and appropriate catalog records will have been developed.


Contact: Raimund Goerler, university archivist (614-292-2409) or Ken Jezek, director of the Byrd Polar Research Center (614-292-6531)

Written by Earle Holland (614-292-8384)

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