Many wanted to claim its discovery—but only one could be the first. In The Quest for the North Pole, a new podcast from Mental Floss and iHeartRadio, we'll dive into the adventure, excitement, and danger surrounding our obsession with the North Pole. In each weekly episode, we'll analyze the motives and celebrate the triumphs of the people who sought the northernmost point on the globe, from the questionable methods of early explorers to a century-old controversy that's yet to be settled. In our story, we'll look at Sir John Franklin's brave but disastrous attempt, Fridtjof Nansen's innovations for polar travel, and Robert E. Peary's expeditions with Matthew Henson—and the way Peary robbed Henson of the credit he deserved.
Bonus Episode 4: Live from Greenland
In the final bonus episode of The Quest for the North Pole, we travel to far northwestern Greenland to see the changing Arctic firsthand. We explore the long history of this area, from its settlement by Indigenous people, to the expeditions of Peary and Rasmussen, to secret military operations during the Cold War. With scientists from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, we visit a climate-monitoring station atop the Greenland ice sheet, which gathers the data scientists need to model future changes in the Arctic—and the rest of our planet. Along the way, we'll see amazing wildlife, get frostbite, and realize how lucky we are not to be man-hauling thousand-pound sledges across the ice.
Bonus Episode 3: Family Reunions
On their many attempts to reach the North Pole, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson spent a lot of time in northwest Greenland. So much time that they, like many explorers before them, formed intimate relationships with Inughuit women. Their sons from those unions, Kali Peary and Anaukaq Henson, grew up in their Arctic communities never knowing their fathers. But in the 1980s, an ambitious Harvard neuroscientist brought Kali and Anaukaq to the United States to meet their American relatives. It was a joyous, unforgettable experience—but the family reunion also brought up some painful memories and uncomfortable questions.
Bonus Episode 2: Minik and the Meteorites
Before Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole, he led several expeditions to northern Greenland. But they were more than just scouting trips. He brought back three legendary meteorites from the Arctic, which are still on display in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Peary also brought people—six Inughuit who had helped him retrieve the meteorites, including a young boy named Minik. In this special bonus episode of The Quest for the North Pole, host Kat Long speaks with Kenn Harper, author of Minik: The New York Eskimo, about the boy’s experience with the museum, how he came to feel betrayed by those he trusted, and how his fate intertwines with the legacy of Arctic exploration.
Bonus Episode: The Arctic’s Biggest Mystery
The demise of the Franklin Expedition remains the most compelling puzzle in Arctic exploration. Sir John Franklin was a veteran of three previous polar voyages, recognized for his bravery and resourcefulness, and admired for his grit. The British Admiralty chose him to lead what it hoped would be its last stab at finding the Northwest Passage. In 1845, two lavishly provisioned ships with 129 crew members entered Lancaster Sound, the pathway toward solving the mystery of the Passage. Then, they seemed to vanish into the Arctic labyrinth. Not a single person survived. What catastrophe had befallen Britain’s best-prepared polar expedition? And what tantalizing clues are still being uncovered? That’s what we’ll explore in this special bonus episode of The Quest for the North Pole.
Polar Past, Present, and Future
Global warming is changing the Arctic rapidly. Explorers of the past would barely recognize its green tundra, diminished glaciers, and ice-free seas. We’ll hear from journalists and historians who have followed in the footsteps of the explorers, and discovered their original routes have disappeared. What do these changes mean for the people who live there now, and our relationship to the Arctic today? Are there still places left to explore? How will we confront exploration’s nationalist and racist past and make the future more inclusive? This episode will look at the North Pole’s many legacies.
Triumph by Snowmobile
In 1968, decades after Peary’s and Cook’s competing stories emerged, a Minnesota insurance salesman named Ralph Plaisted was sitting in a bar, talking to a friend about snowmobiles. His friend said that if snowmobiles were so great, he should be able to ride one to the North Pole. Plaisted accepted the challenge. Thus began one of the most improbable expeditions, led by one of the unlikeliest adventurers, ever made to the Pole—a journey by Ski-Doo that ended up being the first to indisputably reach 90° North latitude. We’ll look at how Ralph Plaisted did it.
Thoroughly enjoyed listening to the first season about Teddy Roosevelt. They did a great job of covering a wide range of topics and it was entertaining to listen to. Highly recommend for any fan of TR or of American History!
And searching maps and routes and this is so interesting! Great job - the use of sound just makes me FEEL cold while listening. Before publishing a producer unfamiliar with the content should listen, catch, and fix the missing items - Needs a touch more description for the ear; feels like an print writer wrote this and not a broadcaster. Did I miss why Peary didn't have photos from the pole - a photo of his compass showing 90 degrees North? It’s just not clear why he couldn’t prove his achievement. Also could’ve used a description of those old compass instruments. Episode 8 had audio issues for me with weird edits-Kat’s voice layered over herself. Just loved it though. Thank you!
Great and inspirational
Thanks for showing us how we can change the world (if we have enough caffeine)