After returning to the Roosevelt in May, Peary in June began weeks of further agonizing travel by heading west along the shore of Ellesmere, discovering Cape Colgate, from the summit of which he claimed in his 1907 publications he had seen a previously undiscovered far-north "Crocker Land" to the northwest on June 24th of 1906. Yet his diary for this time and place says "No land visible and Crocker Land was in 1914 found to be non-existent by Donald MacMillan and Fitzhugh Green. On December 15, 1906 the National Geographic Society, which was primarily known for publishing a popular magazine, certified Peary's 1905-6 expedition and Farthest with its highest honor, the Hubbard Gold Medal; no major professional geographical society followed suit.
Peary's lobbying early headed off an intention among some congressmen to have his claim to the pole evaluated by explorers. As eventual congressionally recognized "attainer" of the pole (not "discoverer" in deference to 1908 North Pole claimant Frederick Cook's supporters) Peary was given a Rear Admiral's pension and the Thanks of Congress by a special act of March 30, 1911. In the same year, he retired to Eagle Island, located on the coast of Maine, in Freeport. (His home there is now a Maine State Historic Site.) Civil Engineer Peary received honors from numerous scientific societies of Europe and America for his Arctic explorations and discoveries. He died in Washington, D.C., February 20, 1920 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Matthew Henson was reinterred nearby on April 6, 1988.
The Liberty ship SS Robert E. Peary, the destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) the cargo ship USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE-5), and Knox-class frigate USS Robert E. Peary (FF 1073) were named for him. The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College is named for Peary and fellow Arctic explorer Donald B. MacMillan. On May 28, 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a 22 cent postage stamp in honor of Peary and Henson; they were previously honored in 1959.
Peary was the author of several books, the most famous being Northward over the Great Ice (1898) and The North Pole (1910). The movie Glory & Honor by Kevin Hooks (2000) effectively dramatizes his hellish 1909 journey to the vicinity of the pole. Even explorer A.Greely who with the majority of explorers came (after initial acceptance) to doubt Peary's reaching 90°, correctly notes that no Arctic expert questions that (unlike Cook) Peary courageously risked his life travelling hundreds of miles from land and that he reached regions adjacent to the pole.
In his book Ninety Degrees North, polar historian and author Fergus Fleming describes Peary as "undoubtedly the most driven, possibly the most successful and probably the most unpleasant man in the annals of polar exploration." He was also one of the most intelligent, bold, and able. His skills with the instruments and the mathematics of surveying ensured that all of his genuine exploring discoveries are placed beyond doubt by his records of celestial observations in connection with magnetic variation determination and finding longitude by application of spherical trigonometry via logarithms.
Peary and Henson both fathered children with Inuit women outside of marriage. This was brought up by Cook and his followers during Peary's lifetime and would have damaged his advancement if it had been widely believed. Peary appears to have started his relationship with his Inuit wife "Ally" when she was 14 years old. Furthermore, Peary's main financial backer was New York philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, a major force in the founding of Anthony Comstock's New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Many of the explorers knew the facts, but had no wish to mention them publicly, in case this endangered their financial backing by scandal-shy geographical societies or their own Inuit relationships.
By the 1960s the truth was widely acknowledged and Peary’s son Kali was eventually brought to the attention of the broader American public by S. Allen Counter, who met him on a Greenland expedition. The "discovery" of these children and their meeting with their American relatives were documented in a book and documentary titled North Pole Legacy: Black, White and Eskimo.
A few weeks before Cook's pole pretension was rejected by a Danish panel of explorers and navigational experts, Peary (who did not make Cook's mistake of submitting to international neutrals or to explorers) saw his claim certified by the National Geographic Society whose chief Gilbert Grosvenor had persuaded the National Academy of Sciences not to get involved. Despite internal council splits (which only became known in the 1970s) the Royal Geographical Society of London gave Peary its gold medal in 1910. Neither the American Geographical Society nor any of the geographical societies of semi-Arctic Scandinavia has recognized the North Pole claim.
The party that accompanied Peary on the final stage of the journey included no one who was trained in navigation and could independently confirm his own navigational work, a point exacerbated by Peary's omission to produce records of observed data for steering: for the direction ("variation") of the compass, for his longitudinal position at any time, or for post-Bartlett Camp zeroing-in on the pole either latitudinally or transversely.
The last five marches when Peary was accompanied by a navigator (Capt. Bob Bartlett) averaged no better than 13 miles/march northing. But once the last support party turned back at "Camp Bartlett" from where Bartlett was ordered southward, at least 135 nautical miles (155 statute miles) from the pole, Peary's claimed speeds immediately double for the five marches to Camp Jesup, and then quadrupled during the 2½ day return to Camp Bartlett -- at which point his speed slowed drastically compared to that pace. Peary's account of a beeline journey to the pole and back — which would have assisted his claim of such speed — is contradicted by companion Henson's account of tortured detours to avoid "pressure ridges" (ice floes' rough edges, often a few meters high) and "leads" (of open water between those floes). The conflicting and unverified claims of Cook and Peary prompted Roald Amundsen to take extensive precautions in navigation during his Antarctic expedition so as to leave no room for doubt concerning his 1911 attainment of the South Pole, which (like Robert Scott's a few weeks later in 1912) was supported by the sextant, theodolite, and compass observations of several other navigators. See Polheim.
Some polar historians believe that Peary honestly thought he had reached the pole. Others have suggested that he was guilty of deliberately exaggerating his accomplishments. The latter class of skeptics are assisted by the fact that at the alleged victory moment Peary stopped writing in his diary until return to Bartlett Camp and permanently stopped conversing with Henson. Others have suggested that any hint that Peary did not reach the pole must be the work of pro-Cook conspirators who are simply out to discredit Peary, though no current leading explorer or scientist who is skeptical of Peary's pole claim believes in Cook's.
The latest in Peary advocates' series of attempts to generate the proof of his pole claim which he neglected to provide occurred in 2005 when the British explorer Tom Avery and four companions recreated the outward portion of Peary's journey with replica wooden sleds and Canadian Eskimo Dog teams, reaching the North Pole in 36 days, 22 hours – nearly five hours faster than Peary. Avery writes on his web site that "The admiration and respect which I hold for Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and the four Inuit men who ventured North in 1909, has grown enormously since we set out from Cape Columbia. Having now seen for myself how he travelled across the pack ice, I am more convinced than ever that Peary did indeed discover the North Pole. But analysis of the actual speeds made by Avery do more to cast doubt on Peary's claim than to confirm it. While Peary claimed made good in his last five marches, Avery managed only 71 in his last five marches, barely half Peary's claim. Indeed, Avery never exceeded made good in any five day stretch. Avery managed to match Peary's overall 37 day total only because Peary was encamped for five days at the Big Lead, making no progress. And Avery and his team were airlifted off the pole instead of returning by dogsled, a circumstance which allowed his team to carry much less weight in food and supplies than would otherwise have been needed, and much less than Peary took.
It has been claimed by supporters of Peary and Henson that the depth soundings they made on the outward journey match recent surveys and so confirm that they reached the pole. However, only the first few of the Peary party's soundings, taken nearest the shore, actually touched bottom; thus their usefulness is extremely limited.
Following the Cook claim's quick collapse among scientists and explorers, Peary's adherents have for a century understandably portrayed Cook's few remaining believers as a quasi-religious cult by quoting a wise 1909 prediction that "there will be a Cook party to the end of time". The same is probably true of Peary as well.