The postcard was produced by the Hassan Co., New York cigarette manufacturers. The back of the postcard is headlined “The World’s Greatest Explorers” and reads:
“He was born in Newfoundland in 1875 and was graduated from the Methodist College in St. John’s. He accompanied his uncle, Captain John Bartlett, and Captain Sam Bartlett to the arctic in 1905 and was master of the famous steamer Roosevelt on the two final voyages of Commander Peary in his search for the north pole. He was with Peary on his final march toward the pole in 1909, and was the first British subject to reach the high latitude of 87 47, only one hundred and thirty miles from the north pole, having been chosen by Peary to command the last party return while he himself made the final dash.
Hassan cork tip cigarettes
The Oriental Smoke
The Largest Selling Brand of Cigarettes in America”
This text was attributed to Italian artist Albert Operti (1852-1927), who often painted in the Arctic. Operti (or, more likely, his ghost-writer) could have used an editor and fact-checker but the postcard tells us quite a bit about polar exploration and Bartlett’s career in particular; it’s also informative on the history of marketing and public health. Commercial endorsements were important to the financing of Arctic exploration and Bartlett endorsed many products in his day. Cigarette smoking was normalized and even associated with virtue, heroism, and healthy masculinity in contrast to how it is viewed today. The text cleverly skirts around the then-raging controversy about who reached the north pole first: Robert Peary? Dr. Frederick Cook? Neither of them? The back of the postcard emphasizes Bartlett’s achievements, not his disappointment that it was African-American explorer Matthew Henson instead of him heading to the pole with Peary. Bartlett had to keep a tough front and play the hero no matter what; his career depended upon it. Businesses needed him to do this, too, so they could sell their products.
All these aspects of Bartlett’s career are discussed in Unchained Man: The Arctic Life and Times of Captain Robert Abram Bartlett, which is at the printers now.
Thanks again to Glen Chaytor for kindly sharing these images.