Matthew Alexander Henson (Aug. 8, 1866 - March 9, 1955) was an African-American explorer and one of the first people to visit the North Pole. He was on most of Robert E. Peary’s expeditions, including the 1909 trip to the North Pole.
Henson’s parents died when he was a young boy. He went to sea when he was 12 years old, working as a cabin boy on the three-masted sailing ship “Katie Hines” (under Captain Childs). He became a clerk in Washington, D.C. after Captain Childs died. There, Henson met the Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary; in 1888, Peary hired Henson as a personal assistant for his expedition to Nicaragua, Central America. Because of Henson’s skills (Henson was an accomplished mechanic, navigator and carpenter), resourcefulness and strength, Peary chose Henson to accompany him on his next 7 expeditions to the Arctic. These exploratory trips took place in the years 1891-92, 1893-95, 1896, 1897, 1898-1902, 1905-06, and 1908-09. Peary, Henson, and four Eskimos were the first people to reach the North Pole (in 1909).
Henson wrote “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole,” which was published in 1912. US President William Howard Taft appointed Henson a clerk in the U.S. Customs House in New York City in 1913; he held the post until 1936, when he retired. Henson was awarded a Congressional medal in 1944 for his work on the Peary expedition.