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the first person to make a nonstop transatlantic flight
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born in Detroit on February 4, 1902, and grew up on a farm near Little Falls, Minnesota. He showed exceptional mechanical ability as a child, and at the age of 18 entered the University of Wisconsin to study engineering. More interested in the new and exciting field of aviation than in engineering, however, Lindbergh left the university after two years to become a barnstormer. He made his first solo flight in 1923 in a plane he had bought for $500.
In 1924, Lindbergh enrolled as a flying cadet in the United States Air Service Reserve at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas. He graduated first in his class one year later and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Missouri National Guard. Soon after, the Robertson Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis hired him to fly the mail between St. Louis and Chicago. Lindbergh quickly gained a reputation as a cautious and capable pilot.
Like many other pilots, Lindbergh was determined to win the $25,000 prize which was offered to the aviator making the first New York-to-Paris nonstop flight. The prize had been offered in 1919 by Raymond Orteig, a New York City hotel owner, but no one had yet won it. Lindbergh believed he could win the prize if he had the right airplane, so he persuaded nine St. Louis businessmen to help him finance the cost of a plane. He chose Ryan Aeronautical Company to manufacture a special plane, which he helped design. On May 10-11, 1927, he tested the Spirit of Louis by flying from San Diego to New York City, setting a transcontinental record of 20 hours 21 minutes in the process.
On May 20, at 7:52 A.M., Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, near New York City; he landed at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, at 5:21 P.M. (New York time), May 21. He had flown more than 3,600 miles in 33½ hours.
Lindbergh received many honors and awards for his flight, in addition to the $25,000 Orteig Prize. President Calvin Coolidge presented him with the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and France presented him with the French Legion of Honor. The New York Times paid $250,000 for his story of the flight, and his book We became a best seller. The Daniel Guggenheim Foundation for the Promotion of Aeronautics sponsored an air tour which took Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis to 92 cities across the United States. And, as America's "Ambassador of Good Will," Lindbergh flew nonstop from Washington, D.C., to Mexico City as part of a tour of various Latin American countries.
After his celebratory tours, Lindbergh became technical adviser to several airlines, and pioneered many of the air routes to South America and across the Pacific for Pan American Airways.
Marriage and Heartbreak
While on his Latin American tour, Lindbergh met Anne Spencer Morrow, the daughter of Dwight W. Morrow, the United States Ambassador to Mexico. The two married in 1929. Charles taught Anne to fly, and the couple went on many flying expeditions together. They set a new transcontinental flight record in 1930, and flew to the Orient as "Ambassadors of Good Will" in 1931.
On March 1, 1932, 20-month-old Charles Augustus, Jr., was kidnapped from the family home near Hopewell, New Jersey. The kidnapping captured the heart of the world, as did the discovery of the child's body about ten weeks later. In 1934, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was charged with the kidnapping and murder of Charles, Jr.; he was convicted after a well-publicized trial, and was executed in 1936. Public reaction to the crime led to passage of the "Lindbergh Law," which made interstate kidnapping a federal crime.
Move to Europe
In 1935, Lindbergh, his wife, and their 3-year-old son, Jon, moved to Europe in search of privacy and safety. While there, Lindbergh was invited by the governments of France and Germany to tour the aircraft industries of their countries. In 1938, Hermann Goering, head of the German Luftwafte, presented Lindbergh with the German Medal of Honor. In France, Lindbergh worked with Alexis Carrel in the development of a device to help keep organs alive outside the body.
World War II
The Lindberghs returned to the United States in 1939. For four months, Lindbergh served with the United States Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He then joined the America First Committee, an organization that opposed American entry into World War II, and became its leading spokesman. He testified before Congress in 1941 against the Lend-Lease Act, saying that he would prefer to see neither side win the war, but rather have a negotiated peace. Later that year, he resigned his commission in the United States Army Air Corps Reserve, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt criticized him for his attitude. Some Americans accused Lindbergh of being a Nazi sympathizer because he refused to return the medal he had accepted from Goering.
Lindbergh stopped his non-involvement activity after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. He tried to re-enlist in the Army Air Corps, but his request was refused. He then became a technical adviser and test pilot for the Ford Motor Company and United Aircraft Corporation. In 1944, the War Department sent him to the Pacific to study the operation in combat of the P-38 twin-engine fighter planes. He flew about 50 combat missions, and won credit for extending the range of the plane by 500 miles.
After the war, Lindbergh became a special consultant to the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. In 1954 he became a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower named him to the committee that chose Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the site for the United States Air Force Academy; he was subsequently named a member of the Academy's first Board of Visitors.
In 1956, Pan American World Airways hired Lindbergh as a consultant, in which capacity he advised on the purchase of jet transports and helped design the Boeing 747.
In the late 1960's, Lindbergh became a champion for the conservation movement, with special emphasis on the protection of humpback and blue whales. He also opposed the development of supersonic transport planes because he feared the effects the planes might have on the earth's atmosphere.
Charles Lindbergh died of cancer on August 26, 1974, at his home on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Honors and Awards
In 1949, Lindbergh won the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy "for significant public service of enduring value to aviation in the United States." In 1953, he received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal for his "pioneering achievements in flight and air navigation." His autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis, won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for biography. He also received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Woodrow Wilson Medal, the Hubbard Medal, and others.
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This page was last updated on 06/13/2017.