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Reaching the North Pole Robert Peary posses with his assistant Matthew Henson and 2 Inuits April 6,1909


An African-American was the first person to step on the North Pole. Here is how this part of Black History happened:

On April 6, 1909, Admiral Robert Peary moved toward what he thought was the exact geographic point of the North Pole, where no one had ever been before.

Robert Peary 1909
Robert Peary 1909

Peary had left his exploratory party behind, taking the last difficult struggle by himself with his long time trusted African American assistant, Matthew Henson, and four Inuit helpers.
Everyone was on foot except Peary, who rode on a sled. Peary was 53 years old and not in good shape. He knew that after 7 previous attempts, if he didn’t reach the North Pole now, he never would. It was beyond cold and visibility was limited.

Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson, the African-American son of Southern Sharecroppers, learned sailing and became an assistant to Peary and became the first man to reach the North Ole

Peary ordered Henson, who was on foot, to scout the area for visible landmarks or anything else of interest. Peary came to the point he felt was the North Pole. He had been calculating the angle of the sun and now his compass pointed south instead of north.


To Celebrate the historic moment of his discovery, Peary took an American flag on a pole, lifted it and was ready to push it into the ground to mark the spot where no one had ever been before.  Then, shocked, he saw it!  On this almost sacred spot, never touched before by human beings, there was in the snow, a human snowshoe footprint!

Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson at the North Pole

Peary was confused. How could this be? Whose footprint was it? It turned out that the first footprint on the North Pole was actually Matthew Henson’s footprint!  While Henson had been scouting the area, he had stepped on the North Pole without realizing it. By accident, Matthew Henson, an African-American, was the first person to reach the North Pole.


Peary, an egotistical man, full of self importance, ignored Henson’s footprint and returned to his camp, claiming that he had finally, after 7 attempts, reached the North Pole.

Dr. Frederick Cook
A Photograph of Dr. Frederick Cook and his Inuit companions  being first to arrive at the North Pole.

But Peary’s triumph was short lived. The moment he returned to civilization, he was informed that while he had been out of touch in the Northern wilderness, another man claimed to be first to arrive at the pole before he did — Dr. Frederick Cook.

Publicity picture of Peary
Publicity picture of Peary

The claim by Cook must have infuriated Peary. He knew Cook, who had been a surgeon on one of Peary’s failed attempts to reach the Pole. Peary was a well-funded explorer. He was paid a full salary for his Navy Rank while he explored. Government facilities were placed at his disposal and he had a commercial sponsor, The National Geographic Society.
Now, Cook was challenging his accomplishment and reputation!  There was a lot of money at stake.  The person who discovered the North Pole would profit from paid speaking tours, publications, and advertising opportunities -ways to make a lot of money.

Frederick Cook
Dr. Frederick Cook 1906

Frederick Cook witnessed the expensive equipment and supplies that accompanied Peary on his quest for the North Pole. Cook felt this equipment was cumbersome and that the only way to reach the Pole was with a very small, nimble party of Inuit partners.
Peary was infuriated that his claim to reach the North Pole was compromised. Using his political power and connections, he did everything possible to destroy Cook’s reputation. Just as he used his power to ignore  Matthew Henson.

Robert Peary
Robert Peary in later life

Peary and his associates reached out to destroy Cook. They destroyed his career, his life and even sent him to prison. Cook’s life ended with him as a broken man, cared for by his daughter.
For years, Peary was given credit as the first person to reach the North Pole with Henson and Cook totally ignored.

Matthew Henson in civilian clothing
Matthew Henson in civilian clothing

After the Peary party returned to civilization, Matthew Henson was no longer needed by Peary – it was rumored that their relationship had become strained.  Suddenly Henson was out of work, while Peary toured the world as the hero who discovered the North Pole.
President Theodore Roosevelt came to Henson’s rescue by recommending him for a job at the US Customs House in New York, where Henson spent that last 30 years of his life.
Eventually, Henson’s contributions were recognized by the Explorers Club. The US Navy awarded him the same medal that was awarded to Peary. Henson died March 9, 1955 and eventually the caskets of him and his wife were moved to a place of honor at Arlington National Cemetery.

Matthew Alexander Henson
Matthew Alexander Henson,  companion and co-discoverer of the North Pole with Robert E. Peary. He is buried in Section 8, Grave S-15-1 in Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/released)


Although Frederick Cook was not valued during his lifetime, his dramatic recounting of his dangerous and fascinating voyage of discovery live on in his book “My Attainment of the North Pole”.  His amazing journey  is a Listen 2 Read audiobook, a part of our American Adventure Library of American History available wherever audiobooks are sold or  downloaded, including here:
Thank you for being part of the Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library audiobook community

Andre Stojka
Listen2Read Audiobooks
© 2024


Old drawing of a great whale attacking the Essex in 1820

There was one less whale ship butchering whales in 1820. A rightfully angry whale turned on the wooden ship, rammed it below the water line and sank it. Some called it poetic justice.

The ship was called the Essex and the story of how some of the crew got to safety from the middle of the Pacific Ocean (1500 miles from land) is the subject of our Listen2Read audiobook “Narrative of the most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale ship Essex” an eye witness account written by the first mate of the Essex, Owen Chase.

Nobody knew it in 1820, but whaling was on its way to be as doomed as the Essex. A discovery in a small town in Pennsylvania, only 30 years after the Essex met her demise eliminated the need for any whale ships at all.

Oil seeping from underground with water

Everyone in Titusville knew there was oil under the ground. It kept seeping to the surface just enough to be annoying. The problem was what to do with oil and how to bring oil to the surface when and where you wanted it. The automobile and the internal combustion engine hadn’t been invented yet.

A petroleum company called Seneca Oil scraped up surface oil from trenches dug in the earth which was used as liniment for people and horses.

There were around Titusville underground salt mines connected with salted springs. It was possible to drill into ground and the salty spring water would push to the surface, where, through evaporation, it would leave the valuable commodity of salt.

Edwin Drake, driller and inventor

Was it possible to drill for oil in the same way? To find out, a former railroad conductor named Edmund Drake was employed by the Seneca Oil Company to solve the problem of bringing oil up from under the ground. To give Drake a little more dignity, James Townsend, president of Seneca gave Drake the honorary title of “Colonel” and a salary of $1,000.per year.

Most people in Titusville thought drilling for oil was a nutty idea.  People gathered at the drilling site to just make fun of Drake and the silly scheme. They called him “Crazy Drake”.

Using salt drilling techniques, Drake would drill for oil with a drill bit at the end of a long shaft. As the drill bored down into the earth, the dirt around it caved in, filling in the just drilled hole. Drake was getting nowhere fast- another thing for the crowd to laugh at.

Modern drilling bit surrounded by pipe, the concept invented by Drake

Then, Drake had an inspiration. He placed a long round pipe in the ground and lowered the drill bit and shaft into the center of the pipe so that as the drill bit cut through the earth, the long pipe followed around it, preventing the cave in.

Drake invented the drilling technique used by oil drilling companies to this day. Sadly, Drake never bothered to patent his technique His new well-produced 25 barrels of oil a day, enough for liniment.

The next chapter in the death of whaling came three years after Drake’s new technique was invented. A physician and scientist named Abraham Gesner developed a technique for distilling thick oil into a new liquid he called Kerosene.

Kerosene Lamp

Kerosene was something special. Placed in a special lamp with a wick, Kerosene could burn just like whale oil, except it was brighter, provided better illumination, the supply was more reliable, much cheaper, and sure smelled a lot better.

As the demand for Kerosene grew, Titusville grew too, from a population of 450 people in 1860 to a bustling place of over 12,000 people in 1890. Titusville is considered the “Birthplace of the American Oil Industry” and it was said that Titusville had more millionaires than any other place in the county. 

Oil field in Pennsylvania in 1859 after the use of kerosene was discovered


Now that petroleum could be used for lighting, it was in great demand. There was increased exploration throughout the US and the world as Kerosene replaced whale oil. Alas, the Titusville oil fields ran out of oil around 1870 and its boomtown population began a long decline. Today, it is home to around 5,000 people.
The number of whale ships also declined from a high of over 700 whale ships worldwide to less than 65 at the close of the American Civil War in 1865.

So, Titusville and Kerosene, effectively saved the whales.

While whaling is mostly gone these days, the stories and lore of the whaling era live on, including the story of the Essex and the ordeal of its crew members trying to survive. It is one of the great classic adventures tales of American history in our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library you should experience.

You can listen to our audiobook by downloading it here:

Andre Stojka
Listen2Read Audiobooks
© 2022


“Narrative of the most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex” written by the first mate of the Essex, Owen Chase.

and all 18 of our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library audiobooks are available for download here or wherever you download audiobooks, including:, Apple Books,,, Google Play, NOOK Audiobooks, iTunes, Scribed, Tune-in, Bibliotheca, Playstar, Folliett and
your local public library through the Overdrive system. CD versions are available at Amazon and here at

NOTE: If you enjoy reading my occasional stories about history and our audiobooks, why not subscribe, at no cost, and receive new stories as soon as they are released. You will so be notified when we release new historic adventures into our library Just enter your e-mail address on the upper left spot on this page and you are set. No one will see your address but us.

The world’s most famous sailor struggled by himself in his 35-foot sloop against winds that shoved and buried the bow and him under water. Crawling on the bowsprit, trying to adjust his sails, the rolling sea shoved him under water 3 times. It was a dangerous situation especially being alone; there was no one on board to save him.

A large English Steamer passing ran up the signal ‘Wishing you a Merry Christmas’.
“I think the Captain was a humorist, his own ship was throwing her propeller out of the water.” he wrote.

It was Christmas, 1897, and Joshua Slocum had sailed alone half way around the world. He left the Indian ocean, crossed the Cape of Good Hope and was desperately fighting the winds blowing from the Southeast to reach Cape Town, South Africa.

It was treacherous territory, where the legendary Flying Dutchman perished and supposedly became a ghost ship, doomed to sail the oceans forever.

Slocum was fighting his way to Cape Town and shelter, hoping not to suffer another disaster like the one a few years earlier that changed his life forever.

Slocum and family in the Liberdade on the coast of Brazil

A few year earlier, the Aquidneck, his tall ship, had been caught on a reef off the coast of Brazil and broke apart. Slocum was able to save his wife and family and then, amazingly, built and sailed a new boat from a deserted Brazilian Beach to Washington DC. as he described in our Listen2Read audiobook “Voyage of the Liberdade”.

Now, a few years later, without wife, without family, trying to circumnavigate the world alone, he found himself in these angry South African seas and then, surprisingly, a sudden calm sea caused by the protection of Table Mountain between the Cape and Cape Town.. Luckily, he was found by the steam tug Alert and brought to safety in Cape Town, where he put the boat in dry dock for repairs.

President Paul Kruger,President of the Transval who believed the world was flat

It was then that he met one of the most important men in South Africa, Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal. As Slocum was introduced to Kruger it was mentioned that Slocum was on a voyage around the world.

“You don’t mean round world,” replied Kruger.

He insisted that the world was flat.

“It is impossible! You mean IN the world.”

Amazing to think that as of Christmas, 1898, one of South Africa’s most important leaders still believed the world was flat.

Joshua Slocum held his tongue however and, in a few days, placed his sloop back into the water and continued his voyage around the world, which was quite definitely round and not flat and he did not fall off the edge.

Joshua Slocum’s first book, “Voyage of the Liberdade”, how he saved his family, is high adventure and a great listening experience. You can download is here.

 Thank you for being a member of the Listen2Read Community and best wishes for a safe and healthful New Year 2022.

Andre Stojka
Listen2 Read Audiobooks
© 2021

I recorded “The Night Before Christmas” a few years ago. Listen free here:

Joshua Slocum’s “The Voyage of the Liberdade”
and all 18 of our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library audiobooks are available for download wherever you download audiobooks, including:, Apple Books,,, Google Play, NOOK Audiobooks, iTunes, Scribed, Tune-in, Bibliotheca, Playstar, Folliett and
your local public library through the Overdrive system.

CD versions are available at Amazon and here at 

The Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It can be beautiful -it can be deadly.

Three men of the John Wesley Powell Colorado River Exploration party had enough! They would go no further!

It was August 28, 1869 and behind them was nearly 3 months of hardship, struggle, poor food and near death. Now, they were faced with what they considered certain death, as described by John Wesley Powell in his incredible book “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons.”

Drawing from Powell’s book.



Ahead of them, falling boulders had created a dam over the river, beyond which was a treacherous, high waterfall. Beyond that, deadly river rapids boiled down river. To continue their exploration forward meant they would have to push their boats over the dam, ride down the falls and survive the rapids. If they survived, they would have only 5 days of food left to finish the journey.


The Howland brothers: Seneca on left, Oramel on right.

Oramel Howland, his brother Seneca and William Dunn decided that continuing down the river would be certain death. They determined to leave the river and Powell. They would climb up, out of the Colorado River canyon to the desert lands above them. But they couldn’t know that fate had another awful scenario planned for them.

It was a sad moment for the adventurers, as John Wesley Powell wrote:

August 28—After breakfast I ask the three men if they still think it best to leave us. The elder Howland thinks it is, and Dunn agrees with him.

A long way to the top.
After the rapids, smoother water through the Grand Canyon.

The departing three men waited on shore for Powell and the remaining men to attempt the falls and rapids in two boats. A third boat had been left behind in case the Howland brothers and Dunn change their minds.

Powell wrote:
We are scarcely a minute in running it, and find that, although it looked bad from above, we have passed many places that were worse . . . We land at the first practicable point below and fire our guns, as a signal to the men above that we have come over in safety.

The Howland brothers and Dunn ignored the rifle shot and began their climb to the top of what is now called “Separation Crayon” and the supposed safety of the land above.

After riding the boiling rapids, Powell and the rest of his party reached  safety and the end of their adventure in only two days. It turned out that Powell was right in his calculations of the danger.

But while Powell’s group floated to safety, fate played an awful trick on the Howlands and Dunn.

Three other white men had insulted Native American women of the Shivwits tribe.

An angry war party of the tribe set out to find the men and mistook the Howland brothers and Dunn for the white intruders. They slaughtered the three men.

A year later, re-exploring the Colorado, Powell met an old Native American Chief who told him the following devastating story through a Mormon interpreter:

“Last year we killed three white men.
Bad men said they were our enemies. They told us great lies. We thought they were true. We were mad. It made us big fools. We are very sorry. Do not think of them. It is done. Let us be friends.
When white men kill our people, we kill them. Then they kill more of us. It is not good. We will be friends.”

There was nothing Powell could do. It was long past. Any violence on his part would result in continued violence on both sides. Despite his feelings about the deaths of his companions, the old Chief was right. Let it lie. Being friends was better for both sides. Powell could plan and control his famous exploration of the Colorado River, but he couldn’t control fate.

“This thrilling work demonstrates recorded spoken word at its best.” – Audiofile Magazine


I produced and narrated John Wesley Powell’s “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons” as a Listen2read audiobook. It is an astonishing adventure that was partly responsible for the opening of the United States Southwest. You can download it at the address below:




Andre Stojka
© 2021

 “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons” by John Wesley Powell
and all 18 of our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library audiobooks are available for download wherever you download audiobooks, including:, Apple Books,,, Google Play, NOOK Audiobooks, iTunes, Scribed, Tune-in, Bibliotheca, Playstar, Folliett and
your local public library through the Overdrive system. CD versions for yourself or as a gift are available here at

If you enjoy reading my history stories about great American adventures,
please subscribe and receive them free the moment they are released.


At 7:30 on a cold and rainy morning, April 15, 1865, Dr. Charles Augustus Leale sadly pronounced dead Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

Then, Leale walked across 10th Street in Washington, D.C. from the Peterson Boarding House, where Lincoln’s lifeless body lay, back to Ford’s Theatre, where the assassination had taken place the evening before and where he had attempted to save the life of President Lincoln.
As Dr. Leale walked, he looked down at his shirt cuffs – they were spotted with blood. The blood of President Lincoln.




Entering Ford’s Theater, he looked up to the patriotically festooned box seat where President Lincoln had been assassinated. Then, he found his way to his seat in the Dress Circle, about 40 feet from where the President was shot.



And there, where it had fallen when he jumped up to save the life of President Lincoln, he found his hat.

Leale was 23, a young medical officer in the Union Army. Because he was the first doctor to arrive at the slain President’s side, he was appointed the official medical doctor to attend the President by the other doctors, who later joined him.

It was Dr. Leale, who insisted that the wounded President be moved to the Boarding House across the street from Ford’s Theatre instead of to the more distant White House.

Leaving the empty theatre that cold morning, Dr. Leale next did what was expected of him. He wrote a report to his Superior Officers. It was a long, personal, moment by moment narrative from the instant he arrived at Lincoln’s side to the moment he pronounced the President dead. It was an intimate, first person account by the only person who could write it.


Forty-four years later, in a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, Dr. Leale was asked to speak about that terrible evening. He found his copy of his report to the Surgeon General and used it as the basis for his extraordinary narrative.



Listen2Read audiobooks has recorded Dr. Leale’s personal narrative, “Lincoln’s Last Hours,” movingly read by Andre Devin.

There have been many books and articles written about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, but nothing, in my opinion, as extraordinary as this young doctor’s account:



Andre Stojka
Listen to Read audiobooks
© 2021

“Lincoln’s Last Hours” by Dr. Charles Augustus Leale
and all 18 of our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library audiobooks are available for download wherever you download audiobooks, including:, Apple Books, Google Play,, NOOK Audiobooks, Downpour, iTunes, Scribed, Tune-in, Bibliotheca, Playstar, Folliett and
your local public library through the Overdrive system. CD versions are available at and here at

If you enjoy reading our history blogs,
subscribe and receive them free the moment they are released.

Amelia Earhart

On June 18, 1928, women throughout the world watched a new female role model unleash new potential for women. Her name was Amelia Earhart and on that June day, she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from America to Europe.

“The Friendship” takes off and carries Amelia Earhart and the crew across the Atlantic Ocean.

Earhart was an instant heroine–named by the public “Lady Lindy,” the female equivalent of Charles Lindbergh, the first person who had flown solo across the Atlantic the year before. Even though she was an experienced pilot, she did not fly the plane, but was part of the crew, keeping a log of the flight. It didn’t make any difference in the public mind – a woman had done what a woman had never done before – showing that women could do anything!

President Herbert Hoover gives Amelia Earhart the
National Geographic Society Gold Medal at the White House.



After the successful flight, Earhart, together with co-pilots Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon, was given a ticker tape parade in New York and was welcomed to the White House.   The event made newspaper headlines all over the world.



So, considering the importance of the flight, whatever happened to the plane that had carried Earhart to world prominence? What happened to “The Friendship?” I tried to find out.


“The Friendship” prepares for take off.

 “The Friendship “ was a tri-motor airliner  used in many countries. It could carry up to twelve passengers plus a 2-person crew. This version was outfitted with pontoons instead of wheels, so it could take off and land on the water. The plane also had extra fuel tanks, which allowed for a longer flight, but which weighted it down and made the flight more risky.


I discovered that Admiral Richard Byrd had purchased the plane for a South Pole expedition, but had changed his mind when he realized part of his funding came from the Ford Motor Company, which would furnish their own plane.   


Amelia Earhart in her flight coat.

So, Admiral Byrd sold “The Friendship” for $62,000 to Donald Woodward, a wealthy aviation enthusiast, and son of the founder of what is today the Jell-O Corporation. The price in today’s dollars would be around $949,000.00.

Mrs. Amy Guess, a wealthy socialite, visualized herself as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and decided to lease the plane from Woodward. After Mrs. Guess’ family argued her out of taking the risky flight herself, Mrs. Guess chose Amelia Earhart, an experienced pilot and well-known aviation enthusiast, to fly in her place.


Amelia Earhart and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.


With the outstanding success of the flight, “The Friendship,” became world famous. It was still owned by Donald Woodward and, considering its fame and his enthusiasm for aviation, I would have thought he might have wanted to preserve the plane or give it special treatment.

So where is it today? What aviation museum proudly displays this historic plane?

For some reason, unfortunately, Donald Woodward ignored the plane’s significance. He sold “The Friendship.”  The purchaser was not even from the United States. It was Jose Roger Balet of Argentina, who renamed it “12 de October,” after a national Argentinian holiday honoring Columbus, but which has recently changed to a celebration of cultural diversity.

On June 21, 1931, after making an “emergency landing,” the plane was “acquired” by General Enrique Bravo for the Fuerz Aerea Nacional, the Columbian National Air Force.

The few records I could find show the plane was removed from service in 1932 and was destroyed by accident or fire in 1934. “The Friendship” is no more. It is only a memory. Happily, we have many pictures and films to document its importance.


Amelia Earhart prepares for a fight.

But the woman, who flew on that historic 1928 flight, Amelia Earhart, remains to this day a symbol of female independence and bravery. She spent a large portion of her life supporting women’s rights. She was the first President of the Ninety-Nines, an organization founded to support women in aviation.

Amelia Earhart wrote a book about her flight, “20Hrs. 40Mins.,” in which she quotes from the flight log.  She describes how she learned to fly and opportunities for women, expressing her hopes and dreams for women in aviation.



I published an audiobook of Amelia Earhart’s book, read by Leslie Walden, so you can hear for yourself her vivid description of her adventure. “20Hrs. 40Mins.” is available wherever audiobooks are downloaded or sold.


If you would like to see the actual “take off” over water of “The Friendship,” the newsreel footage is part of a promotional video I produced. I was able to locate and license the newsreel footage. You can see it here:

If you enjoy reading my short history blogs, subscribe for free and you will receive them as soon as they are released.


Andre Stojka


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“20Hrs. 40Mins.” by Amelia Earhart

and all 18 of our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library audiobooks are available for download wherever you download audiobooks, including:, I-Tunes, Apple Books, Google Play, NOOK Audiobooks, Scribed, Tune-in, Downpour,, Bibliotheca, Playstar, Folliett, and your local public library through the Overdrive system. CD versions are available at and at






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