Amelia Earhart, the daughter of a lawyer, was born in Atchison, Kansas, on 24th July, 1897. Earhart became interested in aviation when she saw her first aircraft at the Iowa State Fair in 1907.
In 1917 Earhart moved to Toronto and served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at a military hospital until November 1918. After the war she became a medical student at Columbia University. However, she did not finish the course and in 1920 went to live with her parents in California. Soon afterwards she was taken up in a biplane for a 10 minute flight over Los Angeles.
Earhart was impressed with the experience and began receiving flying lessons from Anita Snook. A few months later she purchased a aircraft she called The Canary. Snook did not rate Earhart as a great flyer and she did have several accidents during this period. Earhart did not lack self-confidence and in October, 1922, she set a women's altitude record when she reached 14,000 feet.
In 1925, Earhart began work as a social worker in Boston. She remained interested in aviation and joined the National Aeronautic Association and helped to publicize the idea of women pilots. This resulted in her being asked to accompany Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon on a flight across the Atlantic. On 18th June, 1928, the team left for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Flying through dense fog for most of their journey, they landed at Burry Port in South Wales.
Earhart published a book on the flight, 20 hours, 40 minutes. She also wrote regular articles on aviation for Cosmopolitan and other magazines. She continued to fly and in 1930 broke several women's speed records in her Lockheed Vega aircraft.
Earhart's next ambition was to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. On 20th May, 1932, she flew her Lockheed Vega from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This flight broke several records. As well as being the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo it was also the longest non-stop distance flown by a woman. She also became the first person to fly the Atlantic twice.
On her return to America she received a tickertape parade in New York. President Herbert Hoover also presented her with the Special Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society.
Earhart followed this achievement with a flight from Hawaii to California. Ten pilots had already lost their lives attempting this crossing but Earhart successfully completed the journey on 11th January, 1935.
Earhart now decided to try fly around the world. The Lockheed Electra 10E was chosen as the plane for the flight and Frederick Noonan agreed to become her navigator. The first leg of the journey was from Oakland to Hawaii. Unfortunately on March 17, 1935, Earhart had an accident while taking off and her aircraft had to be sent back to California for repairs.
Earhart decided to begin her second attempt from Los Angeles, California on May 21, 1937. The first destination was San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was followed by trip to South America before going on to Africa and the Red Sea. Earhart then became the first woman to fly non-stop from the Red Sea to India.
On 17th June Earhart and Noonan left Karachi. After stopping off at Rangoon, Bangkok and Singapore the Lockheed Electra 10E reached Bandoeng. They remained there for ten days as some faulty equipment had to be repaired.
Earhart left Bandoeng for Port Darwin, Australia on 27th June. They then moved on to New Guinea. At this point they had flown 22,000 miles. With less than 7,000 miles to go, the couple left the island on 2nd July. They never reached their destination and it is believed the plane went down about 100 miles off the coast of Howland Island.
Amelia Earhart autobiography, Last Flight, was published posthumously in 1938.
This is Amelia: Read the Story of Amelia EarhartTHE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION VIA GETTY IMAGES
Amelia Earhart, known as Meelie when she was a child, loved to be swept away on adventures. Her father was a lawyer who worked for the Rock Island Railroad in Kansas City, Missouri. As the daughter of a railroad employee, Amelia got to travel all over the country and see amazing sights.
When she was 7 years old, Amelia visited the 1904 World’s Fair, in St. Louis, Missouri. Inspired by a roller coaster there, she decided to build one herself. She enlisted the help of her younger sister, Muriel, nicknamed Pidge. Meelie and Pidge gathered planks, a wooden box, and a tub of lard to grease the tracks. They built their roller coaster off the roof of a tool-shed. Amelia took the first ride—and crash-landed. Despite the bruises, she loved the experience, and told Pidge it felt like flying.
Amelia first saw an air-plane in person when she was 10. It was at a state fair in Des Moines, Iowa. She wasn’t too impressed: “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting,” she said.
Another airplane she saw was a bit more exciting. Around 1918, she and a friend attended a f lying exposition in Toronto, Canada. While they were watching a pilot perform stunts, he suddenly dove right at them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper,’” Amelia recalled. She held her ground as the airplane swooped by.
Amelia wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for her career. She nursed wounded World War I soldiers, trained to be a mechanic, and studied medicine and medical research. When she was 23, she attended an air show that offered plane rides. Amelia jumped at the chance, and flew in an air-plane for the first time.
When the plane got a few hundred feet off the ground, Amelia was filled with exhilaration. At that moment, she knew flying was exactly what she was meant to do.
Amelia Earhart timeline
Amelia Earhart is born
Amelia Mary Earhart, daughter of Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart (March 28, 1867) and Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart (1869–1962), was born in Atchison. Read more
Amelia Earhart experiences her first flight with Frank Hawks
By 1919 Earhart prepared to enter Smith College but changed her mind and enrolled at Columbia University signing up for a course in medical studies. Read more
Amelia Earhart takes first flying lesson
Earhart had her first lessons, beginning on January 3, 1921, at Kinner Field near Long Beach but to reach the airfield Amelia took a bus to the end. Read more
Amelia Earhart buys her first plane
She hired Neta Snook, the first woman instructor to graduate from the Curtiss School of Aviation, to teach her. She paid for the first lessons by. Read more
Amelia Earhart sets altitude record for female pilots
On October 22, 1922, Earhart flew the Airster to an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,300 m), setting a world record for female pilots. On May 15, 1923. Read more
Amelia Earhart becomes first woman to fly across the Atlantic
After Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Amy Phipps Guest, (1873–1959), expressed interest in being the first woman to. Read more
First Women's Air Derby, Powder Puff Derby
Earhart subsequently made her first attempt at competitive air racing in 1929 during the first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Women's Air Derby (later. Read more
Amelia Earhart marries George Putnam
For a while she was engaged to Samuel Chapman, a chemical engineer from Boston, breaking off her engagement on November 23, 1928. During the same. Read more
Amelia Earhart Becomes First Woman to Fly Solo across the Atlantic
On May 20-21, 1932, Earhart accomplished her goal of flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She took off from Newfoundland, Canada, at 7:12 p.m. on. Read more
Amelia Earhart Becomes the First Woman to Fly Solo from Coast-to-Coast
On August 24-25, 1932, she flew from Los Angeles, California, to Newark, New Jersey, in a record 19 hours, 5 minutes, flying a Lockheed Vega, also. Read more
Amelia Earhart is first woman in Bendix Trophy Race
Earhart again participated in long-distance air racing, placing fifth in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, the best result she could manage considering. Read more
Amelia Earhart becomes first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California
On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. Although this transoceanic flight. Read more
Amelia Earhart becomes first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City
That year, once more flying her faithful Vega which she had tagged "old Bessie, the fire horse," Earhart soloed from Los Angeles to Mexico City on. Read more
Amelia Earhart's first attempt to fly around the world
On St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1937, they flew the first leg from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. In addition to Earhart and Noonan. Read more
Amelia Earhart's second attempt to fly around the world begins
While the Electra was being repaired Earhart and Putnam secured additional funds and prepared for a second attempt. This time flying west to east. Read more
Amelia Earhart disappears near Howland Island
On July 2, 1937 (midnight GMT) Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in the heavily loaded Electra. Their intended destination was Howland Island, a. Read more
Search for Amelia Earhart is called off
Beginning approximately one hour after Earhart's last recorded message, the USCG Itasca undertook an ultimately unsuccessful search north and west. Read more
USNS Amelia Earhart is Launched
USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE-6), a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship is the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for noted American. Read more
Amelia Earhart didn’t flinch. The 21-year-old was attending an air show in Canada in 1918 when a stunt plane dived right toward her. But instead of running out of the way, she faced the plane down.
That wasn’t Earhart’s only brave moment. Born in Kansas on July 24, 1897, she volunteered during World War I starting in 1917, treating wounded Canadian soldiers returning from the European battlefields. Nearby were pilot practice fields, where she discovered her passion for flying. After taking her first flight in 1920, she started working odd jobs to pay for flying lessons. Then, in 1923, she earned an international pilot’s license, becoming one of only 16 women in the world to have one.
Aviation in the 1920s was still new—after all, the Wright brothers’ first flight had just happened in 1903—and most pilots were men. Earhart wanted to change that and in 1931 became the first president of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots. The next year, no one would ever think of pilots as “just men” again.
In 1932, Earhart took off from Newfoundland, Canada. Fifteen hours later, she landed in a cow pasture in Northern Ireland and became the first woman to fly by herself across the Atlantic Ocean. And she didn’t stop there. In 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans after she flew from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. In fact, between 1930 and 1935, Earhart set at least five women's speed and distance flying records.
First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
Numerous aviation records
First woman to receive a National Geographic Society gold medal
First woman to receive a Distinguished Flying Cross
Charter member and first president of the 99s
Amelia Earhart summary: Amelia Earhart is one of the most prominent icons of the 20th century. She was a pioneering female pilot, determined and independent, and a supporter of women’s rights. Her numerous aviation firsts and her disappearance during an attempt to fly around the globe in 1937 have ensured her status as a legend.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born July 24, 1897, to Edwin and Amelia “Amy” (Otis) Earhart in her Otis grandparents’ house in Atchison, Kansas. Two years later, her sister Grace Muriel was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 29, 1899. Until Amelia was 12, the two sisters primarily lived with their Otis grandparents in Atchison —her grandfather was a successful judge—and attended a private school there. She spent summers with her parents in Kansas City.
In 1908, after their father, an attorney, got a job with Rock Island Railroad and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, Amelia and Muriel went there to live with their parents. It was in Des Moines that Amelia saw her first airplane at a state fair, although she was not impressed—it had only been six years since the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina.
In 1911, Amelia’s grandmother Otis, her namesake, died. Around this time, her father began to drink heavily and eventually lost his job. In 1913, Edwin got a job in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the family moved. In the spring of 1914, Edwin took another job in Springfield, Missouri, but after moving, discovered that the man he was to replace had decided not to retire. Rather than return to Kansas with Edwin, where he eventually started his own law practice, Amy took her children to live with friends in Chicago’s tony Hyde Park neighborhood. Amelia’s shame and humiliation over her father’s alcoholism and from watching her mother struggle financially caused a lifelong dislike for alcohol and need for financial security.
Earhart graduated from Hyde Park School in 1915 and attended a finishing school in Philadelphia, the Ogontz School, the following year. Her ultimate goal was to attend Bryn Mawr, then Vassar. Over the Christmas break during her second year, 1917, she visited her sister in Toronto, Canada, where Muriel was attending St. Margaret’s College. Earhart encountered many World War I veterans and, although she was already helping with the war effort at Ogontz as secretary of the Red Cross chapter, she wanted to do more. She left Ogontz to volunteer as a nurse in at Spadina Military Hospital, where many of her patients were French and English pilots. She and Muriel spent time at a local airfield watching the Royal Flying Corps train.
During the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919, which swept through Toronto in the summer of 1918, Earhart contracted a severe sinus infection that required surgery and a lengthy recovery period. That fall, she went to live with her mother and sister in Northampton, Massachusetts, where her sister was preparing to attend Smith College. During her convalescence, she learned to play the banjo and completed a course in automobile maintenance.
In the fall of 1919, Earhart enrolled in a pre-medical program at Columbia University in New York City. Although she did well academically, she left after a year to rejoin her reconciled parents in Los Angeles, California, having changed her mind about becoming a doctor and hoping to help her reconciled parents stay together.
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In Los Angeles, Earhart saw her first airshow and took her first plane ride—”As soon as we left the ground, I knew I had to fly.” She began taking lessons at Bert Kinner’s airfield on Long Beach Boulevard from Neta Snook on January 3, 1921. Snook gave her lessons in a rebuilt Canuk, the Canadian version of the Curtiss JN4 Jenny, which proved to be to lumbering and slow for Earhart—by summer, she had a bright yellow Kinner Airstar that she called The Canary. To help pay for the plan and flying lessons, she worked in a photography studio and as a filing clerk at the Los Angeles Telephone Company.
Snook thought Earhart was ready to fly solo after 20 hours of flight training—generally 10 hours were deemed sufficient at the time—but Earhart insisted on having stunt training before flying alone. She began participating in public aerial demonstrations and air rodeos. In the fall of 1922, she set an unofficial altitude record for women, flying to 14,000 feet. On March 17, 1923, she received top billing for the air rodeo and opening event at Glendale Airport in Glendale, California.
Unfortunately, due to a change in the Earhart family’s fortune and her own inability to earn enough to keep the plane, Earhart sold the Airstar in June 1923. In 1924, her parents divorced and Earhart moved back to the East Coast with her mother and sister, and eventually to Boston, Massachusetts where she worked at Denison House teaching English to immigrant families. She became a full-time, live-in staff member at Denison House, which provided social services and education to the urban poor by having educated women and poor people live together in the same residence.
In 1928, she was invited to join pilot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. “Slim” Gordon as a passenger on their transatlantic flight set to take place a little over a year after Charles Lindbergh’s landmark flight—she would be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. On June 17, 1928, they left Newfoundland in a Fokker F7 and, about 21 hours later, arrived at Burry Port, Wales. The successful flight made headlines across the world—in no small part because book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam was involved in the project. He would become Earhart’s manager and eventually her husband. A ticker-tape parade in New York City and a reception at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge catapulted the crew to fame. Although Earhart was just a passenger—in her own words, “a sack of potatoes”—the trip set the stage for Earhart to become a pioneer of aviation and a celebrity. By the end of the year, Putnam had arranged for her first book to be published, titled 20 Hrs. 40 Min., Our Flight in the Friendship: The American Girl, First Across the Atlantic by Air, Tells Her Story.
In August 1929, the Cleveland Air Race, a transcontinental race, was opened to women as a nine-stage race that began in Santa Monica, California, and ended in Cleveland, Ohio. In the Women’s Air Derby, dubbed the “Powder Puff Derby” by humorist Will Rogers, Earhart piloted a new Lockheed Vega-1, the heaviest of the planes flown in her class. Due to several mishaps and one fatality, only 16 of the 20 pilots completed the race. Louise Thaden won the Class D race with a Beechcraft Travel Air Speedwing, Gladys O’Donnell came in second with a Waco ATO, and Earhart came in third in her Vega, two hours behind the winner.
Never had so many female pilots spent a significant amount of time together or gotten to know each other so well. Because of the camaraderie and support they felt during the race, Thaden, O’Donnell, Earhart, Ruth Nichols, Blanche Noyes, and Phoebe Omlie gathered to discuss forming an organization for female pilots. All 117 of the women pilots licensed at the time were invited to join. On November 2, 1929, twenty-six women, including Earhart, met at Curtiss Airport in Valley Stream, New York to form the organization now known as the 99s, named for the 99 charter members. Earhart was the first president of the organization.
Following Putnam’s divorce in 1929, his professional relationship and friendship with Earhart developed into more. After numerous proposals, Earhart finally accepted and they were married on February 7, 1931. Earhart called the marriage a “partnership” with “dual control.” Putnam continued to manage Earhart’s career, arranging her flying engagements, which were often followed by lecture tours to maximize the opportunity for publicity.
On April 8, 1931, Earhart set an altitude record in a Pitcairn autogiro—a type of early helicopter—that would stand for years. She was sponsored by Beech-Nut company in an attempt to be the first pilot to fly an autogiro from coast to coast, but discovered on arrival that another pilot had accomplished the feat a week before. She decided to attempt to be the first to complete the first transcontinental round-trip flight in an autogiro, but crashed after taking off at Abilene, Texas, on the return leg of the trip, for which she received a reprimand for negligence from Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aviation Clarence Young. Although she completed the trip in a new autogiro, she abandoned the rotorcraft after several other mishaps.
To dispel rumors that Earhart was not a skilled pilot but merely a publicity figure created by Putnam, they began planning a solo transatlantic flight from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris, which would make her the first female and second person to fly solo across the Atlantic. Earhart took off May 20, 1932, in her Lockheed DL-1—five years to the day after Lindbergh began his historic flight. Mechanical problems and adverse weather forced Earhart to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland, rather than Paris, but her achievement was undeniable. The National Geographic Society awarded her a gold medal, presented by President Herbert Hoover, and Congress award her a Distinguished Flying Cross—both awarded to a woman for the first time.
Earhart continued to set records and achieve firsts for females in aviation. In August 1932, she became the first woman to fly nonstop coast-to-coast across the continental United States in her Lockheed Vega. She had the fastest nonstop transcontinental flight by a woman in 1932. In 1933, she was one of two women to enter the Bendix race from Cleveland, Ohio, to Los Angeles, California, which officials had opened to women, allowing them to compete against men in the same race for the first time. Although she crossed the finish line six hours behind the men, on her return flight, she beat the nonstop transcontinental flight record she set the previous year by two hours.
Earhart received many awards and accolades for her record-setting achievements. She won the Harmon Trophy as America’s Outstanding Airwoman for 1932, 1933, and 1934. She was given honorary membership in the National Aeronautic Association and was awarded the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government.
Earhart launched a fashion line in 1934 but did not have success and closed it by the end of the year. She also worked with Paul Mantz, a Hollywood stunt pilot and technical advisor, to prepare for a new record flight from Hawaii to California as the first person to fly solo across the Pacific. She received FCC approval to install a two-way radio in her Hi-Speed Special 5C Lockheed Vega—the first in a civilian aircraft.
On December 3, 1934, another pilot and his two-man crew had disappeared attempting to complete the flight from California to Hawaii. In spite of the disappearance and public opinion that the flight was both dangerous and pointless, the Vega was shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii, in late December and on January 11, 1935, Earhart took off from Wheeler Army Airfield near Honolulu. A little over 18 hours later, she landed in Oakland, California, after an uneventful flight.
Hoping to break another record, in April 1935 she became the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California, to Mexico by official invitation from the Mexican Government, but became lost 60 miles from her ultimate goal of Mexico City and had to stop for directions. In May, she set a record traveling nonstop from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey, arriving in just over 14 hours. In August 1935, she flew in the Bendix race again, this time with Mantz, and placed fifth, winning $500.
Earhart joined the Purdue University staff as a women’s career counselor and advisor in aeronautics in 1935 after being invited by university president Edward C. Elliott to lecture at the university in 1934. In December 1935, Purdue had a conference on Women’s Work and Opportunities—Earhart was the featured speaker.
In July 1936, Purdue and other sponsors helped Earhart purchase a Lockheed Electra 10E, which she called her “flying laboratory,” and she began planning a trip to fly around the world at the equator. In early 1937, she and Frank Noonan, her navigator, began their first attempt. They flew from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii, March 17–18, but crashed while attempting take-off from Luke Field near Pearl Harbor on March 20. After the plane was repaired at the Lockheed plant in California, they began a second attempt, this time traveling from west to east, departing from Miami, Florida June 1.
On July 1, having completed 22,000 miles of the trip, they took off from Lae, Papua New Guinea for Howland Island in the central Pacific. After about 18 hours of flight, they lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which was helping guide them in to land on the island. They were never seen or heard from again. President Roosevelt authorized a massive naval, air, and land search, but nothing was found and it was ended on July 18. Putnam financed his own search for his wife but was also forced to call off the search in October 1937. On January 5, 1939, Earhart was declared legally dead in a Los Angeles, California, Superior Court.
The mystery of Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance continues to fuel speculation and searches—it is one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. Amelia Earhart continues to live on in our collective imagination for her accomplishments and because of the mystery of her disappearance. There are countless biographies and four movies about her life, not to mention numerous books, movies, and television shows about her disappearance and what may have happened to her and Noonan.
Amelia Earhart is an American icon, an example and inspiration for women in aviation and around the world. But before she was “Lady Lindy,” as her fans affectionately called her, she was simply Amelia Mary Earhart. Earhart had been bending traditional gender roles from a very young age.
She played basketball, studied auto repair, and even attended college, even if it was for a brief time. While we’re here discussing how awesome Earhart was, before she was a pilot, she was a Red Cross nurse’s aide during WWI. If that doesn’t impress you, try this one on for size: Before Earhart rode in her first plane, she was a premed student at Columbia University.
Skepticism and Confusion Intensify
In the leadup to the documentary's July 9 premiere, the History Channel touted the photograph, which it obtained from the U.S. National Archives, as potentially transformative evidence dating to before World War II, possibly to 1937. But ever since news of the documentary broke last week, outside experts have expressed various levels of skepticism, which has only intensified in the last 24 hours.
For its part, the U.S. National Archives notes that the photograph used by the filmmakers is not marked with a date. "The materials gathered in the report support a geographical-type study or survey of the Pacific Islands," National Archives Director of Public and Media Communications James Pratchett said in a statement emailed to National Geographic.
Tom King, the chief archaeologist for TIGHAR, the chief group investigating the possibility of Earhart crash-landing on Nikumaroro, says that he has known of the photograph for years and never took it seriously as evidence.
"We looked at it and said, 'Well, it's a man and a woman on a dock looking out in the other direction—it's basically a meaningless piece of information,'" he says in a phone interview from an ongoing TIGHAR expedition in Fiji. "You can read things into it like you can read faces on the moon." (King's current expedition was co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society.)
And in the wake of Yamano's evidence, the History Channel and the documentary's on-screen personalities have expressed various forms of concern and disbelief.
"I don't know what to say," says Kent Gibson, the facial-recognition expert that the History Channel hired to analyze the photograph for Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence. "I don't have an explanation for why [the photograph] would show up two years early."
In the documentary, Gibson said that based on the facial and body proportions of the two Caucasians, he said it was "very likely" that the photograph contained Earhart and Noonan.
In a phone interview with National Geographic, Gibson added that since the documentary filmed, he has acquired new facial-recognition software that signals a match between the photograph's Caucasian man and Fred Noonan. His previous software had indicated that there were too few pixels in the photograph to successfully perform the analysis. (In a follow-up email, Gibson declined additional comment.)
In a statement emailed to National Geographic and separately posted to Twitter, the History Channel said that it has a team of investigators "exploring the latest developments about Amelia Earhart," promising transparency in their findings.
"Ultimately historical accuracy is most important to us and our viewers," the channel said.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a translation of the travelogue's title, as well as hyperlinks that directly link to specific pages in the travelogue. Mari Robinson provided assistance with translation.
Amelia Earhart is probably the most famous female pilot in aviation history, an accolade due both to her aviation career and to her mysterious disappearance. On May 20, 1932, Earhart became the first woman — and the second person after Charles Lindbergh — to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Flying a red Lockheed Vega 5B, she left Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada, and landed about 15 hours later near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The feat made Earhart an instant worldwide sensation and proved she was a courageous and able pilot. Then, on August 24, she made the first solo, nonstop flight by a woman across the United States, from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, establishing a women's record of 19 hours and 5 minutes and setting a women's distance record of 3,938 kilometers (2,447 miles).
Born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart displayed an independent style from childhood, including keeping a scrapbook on accomplished women, taking an auto repair course, and attending college (but never graduating). She attended her first flying exhibition in 1918 while serving as a Red Cross nurse's aide in Toronto, Canada. She took her first flight in California in December 1920, with veteran flyer Frank Hawks, and declared, "As soon as I left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly." Her first instructor was Anita "Neta" Snook who gave her lessons in a Curtiss Jenny. To pay for flight lessons, Earhart worked as a telephone company clerk and photographer. Earhart soloed in 1921, bought her first airplane, a Kinner Airster, in 1922 and wasted no time in setting a women's altitude record of 4,267 meters (14,000 feet). In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to receive an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot license.
Earhart moved to east to be near her sister and mother, and, after a second year at Columbia University in New York City, began working in Boston at the Denison Settlement House as a social worker with immigrant families. In the spring of 1928, she was flying at Dennison Airport, and had joined the local National Aeronautic Association, when she was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger.
Amy Phipps Guest owned the Fokker F.VII Friendship and wanted to make the flight but when her family objected, she asked aviator Richard Byrd and publisher/publicist George Putnam to find "the right sort of girl" for the trip. On June 17, 1928, Earhart and pilots Wilmer Stultz and Lou Gordon departed Trepassey, Newfoundland and, though promised time at the controls of the tri-motor, she was never given the opportunity to fly the aircraft during the 20-hour 40-minute flight to Burry Point, Wales. She did get in the pilot's seat for a time on the final hop to Southampton, England.
The dramatic 1928 flight brought her international attention and the opportunity to earn a living in aviation. Putnam became her manager and she began lecturing and writing on aviation around the country. In August of 1929, she placed third in the All-Women's Air Derby, behind Louise Thaden and Gladys O'Donnell, which was the first transcontinental air race for women (from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio) and a race she helped organized.Â This race, closely followed by the press and by the public who flocked to the stops along the way, proved that women could fly in rugged and competitive conditions.
A few months after the Derby, a group of women pilots decided to form an organization for social, recruitment, and business purposes. Ninety-nine women, out of 285 licensed U.S. female pilots, became charter members, inspiring the organization's name The Ninety-Nines (99s) Earhart became their first president. Female pilots were keenly aware of the lack of social and economic independence for all women and were determined to help one another.
In 1930, after only 15 minutes of instruction, Earhart became the first woman to fly an autogiro, made by Pitcairn and featuring rotating blades to increase lift and allow short takeoffs and landings. Earhart set the first autogiro altitude record and made two autogiro cross-country tours, which were marked by three public "crack-ups," as she called them. Though Earhart was the most famous woman pilot, she was not the most skilled.
Determined to prove herself, Earhart decided to fly the Atlantic Ocean again, but this time alone. She thought a transatlantic flight would bring her respect, something other women sought too -- Ruth Nichols made an attempt in 1931 crashing in Canada, but she was planning another attempt when Earhart succeeded. During her 3,260-kilometer (2,026-mile) nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20-21, 1932, Earhart fought fatigue, a leaky fuel tank, and a cracked manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling. Ice formed on the Vega's wings and caused an unstoppable 3,000-foot descent to just above the waves. Realizing she was on a course far north of France, she landed in a farmer's field in Culmore, near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Acclaimed in London, Paris, and Rome, she returned home to a ticker tape parade in New York City and honors in Washington, D.C. By July and August she was back in the Vega for her transcontinental flight.
On January 11, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, this time in a Lockheed 5C Vega. Although some called it a publicity stunt for Earhart and Hawaiian sugar plantation promoters, it was a dangerous3,875-kilometer (2,408-mile) flight that had already claimed several lives. Of that flight she remarked: "I wanted the flight just to contribute. I could only hope one more passage across that part of the Pacific would mark a little more clearly the pathway over which an air service of the future will inevitably fly." Later that year, Earhart made record flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City and from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey. She also placed fifth in the 1935 Bendix Race. Earhart was a two-time Harmon Trophy winner and was also the recipient of the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross.
Earhart became the first woman vice president of the National Aeronautic Association, which authorized official records and races. She persuaded the organization to establish separate female records because women did not have the money or planes — and thus the experience — to fairly compete against men for "world" titles. Earhart served as a partner in the Transcontinental Air Transport and Ludington airlines and lobbied Congress for aviation legislation. She promoted the safety and efficiency of air travel to women, on the premise that they would influence men. She tirelessly lectured across the country on the subjects of aviation and women's issues and wrote for Cosmopolitan and various magazines. She wrote about her flights and career in 20 Hours and 40 Minutes, The Fun of It, and Last Flight, which was published after her disappearance.
Earhart married George Putnam in 1931 — hesitantly — on the condition that they would separate in a year if unhappy. Though some called it a marriage of convenience, they remained together.
Earhart designed a line of "functional" women's clothing, including dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats, initially using her own sewing machine, dress form, and seamstress. Though "tousle-haired" and rather thin, she photographed well and modeled her own designs for promotional spreads. Earhart also designed a line of lightweight, canvas-covered plywood luggage sold by Orenstein Trunk of Newark, New Jersey. Earhart luggage was sold into the 1990s and featured an Amelia Earhart luggage key, prompting some people to believe they possessed her "personal" aircraft or suitcase key.
In 1935, Earhart became a visiting professor at Purdue University at the invitation of Purdue president Edward Elliott, an advocate of higher education for women, especially in engineering and science. Earhart, a former premedical student, served as a counselor for women and a lecturer in aeronautics. Elliott was also interested in supporting Earhart's flying career and convinced Purdue benefactors to purchase a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra for her. Many companies contributed their latest aviation technology to her Flying Laboratory.
Earhart decided to make a world flight and she planned a route as close to the equator as possible, which meant flying several long overwater legs to islands in the Pacific Ocean. On March 20, 1937, Earhart crashed on takeoff at Luke Field, Honolulu, Hawaii, ending her westbound world flight that had begun at Oakland, California. The Electra was returned to Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, for extensive repairs. On June 1, 1937, Earhart began an eastbound round-the-world flight from Oakland, via Miami, Florida, in the Electra with Fred Noonan as her navigator. They reached Lae, New Guinea on June 29, having flown 35,405 kilometers (22,000 miles) with 11,265 kilometers (7,000 miles) more to go to Oakland. They then departed Lae on July 2 for the 4,113-kilometer (2,556-mile) flight to their next refueling stop, Howland Island, a three-kilometer (two-mile) long and less-than-a-mile wide dot in the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, Earhart and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, anchored off shore of Howland, could not complete any direct two-way radio communication and neither Earhart nor Noonan were competent at Morse Code. However, the Itasca did receive several strong voice transmissions from Earhart as she approached the area, the last at 8:43 am stating: "We are on the line of position 156-137. Will repeat message. We will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait. Listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south." Earhart and Noonan never found Howland and they were declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937 following a massive sea and air search.
Earhart's disappearance spawned countless theories involving radio problems, poor communication, navigation or pilot skills, other landing sites, spy missions and imprisonment, and even living quietly in New Jersey or on a rubber plantation in the Philippines. The most reasonable explanation, based on the known facts of her flight, is that they were unable to locate Howland Island, ran out of fuel, and ditched into the Pacific Ocean.
Earhart's disappearance remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century, and it often overshadows her true legacies as a courageous and dedicated aviator and as an enduring inspiration to women.
Amelia Earhart and Purdue
The year after Charles Lindbergh made the first flight across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart followed suit. Although she’d had a pilot’s license for five years by 1928, Earhart lacked the training necessary to fly the plane herself during that maiden voyage but made history nonetheless as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger.
Within four years, the striking aviatrix who’d come to be known as “Lady Lindy” garnered international renown when she landed in a field in Northern Ireland, after a harrowing fifteen-hour flight from Newfoundland in her bright red Lockheed Vega. In 1935, the first woman to pilot a solo trans-Atlantic flight made history again as the first person to make solo flights from Hawaii to California, and from Mexico City to Newark.
That same year, seeking to increase female enrollment, Purdue University President Edward C. Elliott invited Amelia Earhart to serve as a consultant in the Department of the Study of Careers for Women at Purdue and as a technical adviser in its Department of Aeronautics. During her tenure at the West Lafayette campus, Earhart lectured on topics from aerial navigation to partnership in marriage to the practical applications of a university education. It was while employed at Purdue that Earhart hatched her plan to circumnavigate the globe by air. Gift funds raised through the Purdue Research Foundation secured the Lockheed Electra 10E the trip would require. Numerous photographs from the era show Earhart disembarking from that aircraft at the Purdue airport, the nation’s first university-owned facility of its kind. Amelia was piloting the Electra when, three-quarters of the way through their voyage, she and navigator Fred Noonan were lost over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937.
Although the mystery of her disappearance has never been conclusively resolved, the legendary flier’s life has been significantly illuminated by donations of Earhart’s papers and artifacts made to Purdue by her late husband, and more recently, his granddaughter. The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue is the largest repository of materials relating to the iconic aviator. “My grandfather chose to give the collection to Purdue,” explained donor Sally Putnam Chapman, “because Amelia loved Purdue and because of Purdue’s generous sponsorship of her flights. They were married during Amelia’s time on the faculty at Purdue, and they spent time on the campus together.”
Amelia Earhart was perhaps the most famous female aviator in American history, setting speed and distance records not only for female, but also male pilots. She was initially unimpressed with airplanes, until given a ride by pilot Frank Hawks on December 28, 1920. She said later, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.” Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, to Edwin and Amy Earhart. Amelia's sister, Muriel (Pidge), was born two and a half years later and would remain a close friend of Amelia's (Millie) throughout her life. Amelia's grandfather, retired U.S. District Court Judge Alfred Otis, was one of the leading citizens of Atchison, Kansas. Otis felt that his son in law, Edwin, an attorney, failed to measure up to his standards of providing social status and a large income for his family. Earhart was plagued by that disapproval during his marriage to Amy, and it would later play a part in the Earhart family's disintegration. The legacy of disapproval and doubt would follow Amelia from her childhood tomboy years through her flying career. Amelia defied the conventional little girl behavior of the time by climbing trees, “belly-slamming” her sled to start it downhill, and by hunting rats with a .22 rifle. She also kept a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings of women who had been successful in such predominantly male-oriented careers as the law, film direction and production, advertising, mechanical engineering, and management. Edwin Earhart's private law practice failed. He took an executive position with the Rock Island Line Railroad in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1905. It was in Des Moines in 1907 that Amelia saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. She said later, “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.” It was not until more than a decade later that her interest in flying would be set ablaze. In 1909, when Amelia was a young teenager, Edwin was promoted, and their standard of living improved. Soon after, Edwin began to drink and it became apparent to Amelia, friends and neighbors that he had become an alcoholic. After Edwin was fired from The Rock Island Railroad in 1914, Amy took the children to live with friends in Chicago. Using trust fund money, Amy sent the girls to private intermediate schools in preparation for college. After graduating from Chicago's Hyde Park High School in 1915, Earhart left to visit her sister at a college preparatory school in Canada. It was there that Earhart decided to train and work as a nurse's aide in Spadina Military Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, in November 1918. In the fall of 1919, Earhart enrolled in a pre-med program at Columbia University, but in 1920 quit to rejoin her recently reunited parents in California. Several months after her arrival, she attended a stunt-flying expedition with her father at Daugherty Field, Long Beach. Earhart's heart raced when an aircraft flew directly over their seats. The next day she was given a 10-minute flight. Only five days after her first ride, Earhart took her first flying lesson from pioneer aviatrix, Anita “Neta” Snook, at the Kinner Field near Long Beach. Within six months, Earhart had saved enough money to purchase her first aircraft, a second-hand Kinner Airster. That two-seat yellow biplane, which she affectionately named Canary, was used by Earhart on October 22, 1922 to set her first woman's record of rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet. On May 15, 1923, she received her pilot's license from the Federation of Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) — the 16th woman to do so. Realizing there was little monetary compensation for high-altitude flying, Earhart sold the Canary and purchased a yellow Kissel automobile. In 1924, after her parent's divorce, she then traveled with her mother across the country to Boston, Massachussetts. While in Boston in the fall of 1925, Earhart took a position as a novice social worker at Denison House. She also joined the Boston chapter of the National Aeronautic Association, where she invested what money she had into a company that would build an airport and market Kinner airplanes in Boston. During that time, Earhart used her growing notoriety to market Kinner planes, and to promote flying, especially to Women Pilots, by writing regular columns on the subject. The Boston Globe called her “one of the best women pilots in the United States.” Earhart's career as an aviatrix took off the day she received a telephone call from Captain H.H. Railey on April 27, 1926, inquiring if she wanted to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. After an interview in New York with the project coordinators and book publisher, publicist — and future husband — George P. Putnam, Earhart was invited to join pilot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. “Slim” Gordon on a flight from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland, to Burry Port, Wales. Putnam, after successfully publishing writings by Charles A. Lindbergh, foresaw Earhart's flight as a bestselling story for his publishing house. Although Earhart did not receive monetary compensation for the flight as Stultz and Gordon had, she was promised publicity from being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. In the multi-engined Fokker F7 dubbed Friendship, the crew made several attempts, due to poor weather conditions, before they finally left Boston Harbor and headed north to land at Trepassey, Newfoundland. High winds grounded the crew for days, while Stultz turned to drinking. On June 16, Earhart exercised her authority as commander of the trip by getting Stultz dosed with coffee and onto the pontoon-converted plane. Four hundred miles into the flight, Gordon took the controls and Stultz promptly fell asleep. Since Earhart was unfamiliar with the use of navigational instruments, she could not fly the plane herself. Twenty hours and forty minutes later, the crew spotted land and touched down on water near Burry Port, Wales, 140 miles short of their intended destination of Southampton, Ireland. The overwhelming publicity of the event that Earhart received was put to good use by Amelia and Putnam. She set several other aeronautical records between that flight and and her final one in 1937. In the fall of 1928 she published the successful book, 20 Hours 40 Minutes, about her trip in the Friendship and she also became a writer for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She also was named the General Traffic Manager at Transcontinental Air Transport (later known as TWA). During the preparation for the Atlantic trip, Earhart's friendship with still-married George Putnam blossomed. Upon his divorce, and after signing a prenuptial agreement guaranteeing her continued independence, she married Putnam in December 1929. He would support and publicize her flying career. In 1929, Earhart organized a cross-country air race dubbed the Women's Air Derby for pilots from Los Angeles to Cleveland — later nicknamed the “Powder Puff Derby” by Will Rogers. Earhart placed third in that race. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20 and 21, 1932, the fifth anniversary of Lindbergh's famed flight, finishing it in 14 hours and 56 minutes. She was awarded the National Geographic Society's gold medal from President Herbert Hoover and Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first ever given to a woman. On August 24-25, 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo nonstop from coast to coast, setting the transcontinental speed record for flying 2,447.8 miles in 19 hours and five minutes. And on July 7 and 8, 1933, she broke her previous women's nonstop transcontinental speed record by making the same flight in 17 hours and seven minutes. Other speed records she broke or set include being the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California, at a distance of 2,408 miles, on January 11, 1935. Ten pilots had already lost their lives attempting to cross the Pacific. Therefore, her plane was equipped with a two-way radio, making it the first ever carried in a civilian plane. Over April 19 and 20, 1935, she was the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California, to Mexico City, Mexico, in 13 hours and 23 minutes. Then on May 8 of that same year, she was the first person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey, in 14 hours and 19 minutes. Between the fall of 1935 and her disappearance in July 1937, Earhart served at Purdue University as a consultant in the Department for the Study of Careers for Women, and as a technical advisor in the Department of Aeronautics, which was part of the School of Mechanical Engineering. She became interested in Purdue because at the time it was the only university in the United States with a fully equipped airport. In addition, campus women were encouraged to receive practical mechanical and engineering training. Earhart lectured and conducted conferences with Purdue faculty and students. She initiated studies on new career opportunities for women, a lifelong passion of hers, and most importantly, served as an example of a successful modern woman to female Purdue University students. During a dinner party at Purdue University President Edward C. Elliott's home, Earhart told of her desire for a flying laboratory where she could conduct studies of the effects of long-distance flying on pilots. By night's end, she received $80,000 in donations from fellow guests David Ross J.K. Lilly, of the Eli Lilly Drug Company Vincent Bendix and manufacturers Western Electric, Goodrich, and Goodyear. The funds were used to purchase a new twin-engine Lockheed Electra 10E airplane specially suited for Earhart, and it was delivered in 1936. Shortly before her 40th birthday in 1937, Earhart expressed a desire to be the first woman to fly around the world. Not only would she be the first woman, but she would also travel the longest possible distance, circumnavigating the world at its girth. Referring to the flight, she said, “I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it.” She chose Fredrick Noonan for her navigator, because of his knowledge of the Pacific Area, having worked for Pan American Pacific Clipper. Using her Lockheed Electra 10E, they set off on March 17, 1935, for a flight from Oakland, California to Hawaii. During takeoff from Luke Field near Pearl Harbor, the plane was seriously damaged when Earhart overcompensated for a dropped right wing, causing the aircraft to go out of control. The plane was shipped to California for repairs while Earhart planned her next departure. Since they were leaving so much later in the year, Earhart decided to travel in the reverse direction from her original plan to fly west. Weather conditions were more favorable in the Caribbean and Africa. After the plane's delivery, on May 21, 1937, Earhart and Noonan departed from Los Angeles, California, to Florida to begin their 29,000 mile journey. On June 1, 1937, Earhart and Noonan departed Miami, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, they traveled to South America, then on to Africa and the Red Sea. Becoming the first to fly non-stop from the Red Sea to Karachi, India, they traveled from there on to Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore, and Bandoeng where they were prevented from departing for several days because of monsoons. During that time, Amelia became ill with dysentery that lasted for several days. At that time, repairs were made to the long-distance instruments, which had been giving them trouble. It was not until June 16, 1937, that the pair was able to depart for Port Darwin, Australia, where the direction finder was repaired and their parachutes were shipped home because they “would be of no value over the Pacfic.” They reached Lae, New Guinea, in the mid-Pacific on June 29. With only 7,000 miles left, their next stop would be one of the most navigationally challenging locations, Howland Island, which was only a mile and a half long and half a mile wide. Inaccurate navigational maps had plagued Noonan throughout the trip therefore, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca was stationed just off shore to act as their radio contact. Radio conditions were poor and the Itasca was bombarded with commercial radio traffic generated from the flight. To provide additional illumination, three other U.S. ships — burning every possible light on deck — were positioned along the flight route as markers. About that additional help, Earhart remarked, “Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available.” At 0:00 hours Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on July 2, 1937, the Electra took off from Lae with an estimated 1,000 gallons of fuel, allowing for 20 to 21 hours of flight. Despite favorable weather reports, Noonan's premier method of celestial navigation was impossible due to overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. At 08:00 hours, Earhart's plane was on course at roughly 20 miles southwest of the Nukumanu Islands, but headwind speeds had increased by 10 to 12 mph. It is doubtful that Earhart had received the headwinds report prior to her radio transmission. She made irregular transmissions throughout most of the flight and those received were faint and full of static. At 19:30 hours, Earhart reported to the Itasca, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you, but gas is running low. been unable to reach you by radio . we are flying at 1,000 feet,” at which point the Itasca produced thick black smoke into the air that trailed the ship for approximately 10 miles. Radio controllers continued to transmit, but could not establish two-way contact. Sixteen minutes later, at 19:46 hours GMT, Earhart made her final transmission: “We are on the line position 157-337 will repeat this message. We are running north and south.” The Itasca continued to make attempts to establish two-way contact, broadcasting on all channels until 21:30 hours GMT when it was determined that her plane must have ditched into the ocean. With that determination, the most expensive air and sea search so far in history was begun, totalling $4 million and covering 250,000 square miles of ocean. President Franklin Roosevelt had dispatched nine naval ships and 66 aircraft, but on July 18, the main search was abandoned. George Putnam continued the search until October, when he also abandoned hopes of locating his wife and the navigator. Earhart's own courage and bravery is illustrated in a letter left to Putnam in case the flight would be her last. She wrote,