(via) Considering the human cost of colonial endeavour, it’s a good thing the era of ‘discovering’ new lands is well behind us. It got pretty weird at the end. Indeed, such was the drive of the last wave of European and North American explorers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that not finding anything new was a blindingly hard thing to take, especially when money and reputation were on the line. One famous explorer, Robert Peary, invented an island that didn’t exist in order to secure more funding for his Arctic expeditions. Peary claimed to have seen a previously undiscovered island, ‘Crocker Land’ – so named after one of his benefactors – near Greenland in 1906. It even appeared on a map in the archives of the American Geographical Society. The trouble is, he made it up:
By 1906, Peary was the hardened veteran of five expeditions to the Arctic Circle. Desperate to be the first to the North Pole, he left New York in the summer of 1905 in a state-of-the-art ice-breaking vessel, the Roosevelt—named in honor of one of the principal backers of the expedition, President Theodore Roosevelt. The mission to set foot on the top of the world ended in failure, however: Peary said he sledged to within 175 miles of the pole (a claim others would later question), but was forced to turn back by storms and dwindling supplies.
Peary immediately began planning another attempt, but found himself short of cash. He apparently tried to coax funds from one of his previous backers, San Francisco financier George Crocker—who had donated $50,000 to the 1905-’06 mission—by naming a previously undiscovered landmass after him. In his 1907 book Nearest the Pole, Peary claimed that during his 1906 mission he’d spotted “the faint white summits” of previously undiscovered land 130 miles northwest of Cape Thomas Hubbard, one of the most northerly parts of Canada. Peary named this newfound island “Crocker Land” in his benefactor’s honor, hoping to secure another $50,000 for the next expedition.
Sneaky fellow. The especially sad thing was the immediate consequence of Peary’s invention. People truly believed him. Other explorers actually spent years and no small amount of treasure looking for Crocker Land, as it was one of the last pieces of terra incognita on the planet. Read the fascinating full story by Luke Spencer on Mental Floss.