After the Civil War, naval exploration increasingly focused on the Arctic, either to find evidence of the lost British expedition led by Sir John Franklin or to reach the North Pole. Several of these expeditions relied on American whalemen with Arctic whaling experience and on native inhabitants of the region, to survive in that hostile climate. By far the most active Inuit in assisting U.S. northern expeditions were Ebierbing, called Joe, and his wife Tookoolito, called Hannah. After assisting New London, Connecticut, whalemen in Davis Strait in the 1850s and traveling with British whalers to England, where they met Queen Victoria, Joe and Hannah became the guides and friends of Charles F. Hall for his Arctic expeditions.
In 1871 they accompanied Hall on the government-sponsored Polaris Expedition toward the North Pole, during which Hall died in northern Greenland and the Polaris was lost in the ice. Joe and Hannah helped part of the crew survive as they drifted south on an ice floe. After residing in Connecticut for several years, Hannah passed away, and Joe returned to the Arctic, again participating in Arctic expeditions.
These wax figures of Joe and Hannah in native dress, with fishing implements in hand, were created for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the first of a number of international expositions at which U.S. government-sponsored advances in science and technology received public exposure.