Amelia Earhart

Born in Atchison, Kansas, in 1897, Amelia Earhart attended her first flying exhibition in 1918 while serving as a Red Cross nurse’s aide in Canada. She took her first flight in 1920 and declared, “As soon as we left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly.”

Earhart soloed in 1921 and the next year bought her first airplane. She wasted no time in setting a record, flying higher than any woman ever had before. Earhart would set many more records, including two in this red Lockheed Vega that made her famous around the world.

Born in 1897, Amelia Earhart took her first flight in 1920 and declared, "As soon as we left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly."

Who Was Amelia Earhart?

  • One of the most famous fliers of her day.
  • A record-setting pilot.
  • A promoter of aviation.
  • A media star and celebrity.
  • An inspiring role model for women.
  • The tragic legend at the center of an enduring mystery.

One person described Amelia Earhart this way:

“A tall, slender boyish looking woman.… She had poise and charm. I liked…the frank direct look in her grey eyes.”

There were many reasons why Earhart was chosen to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Some people have suggested that she resembled Charles Lindbergh. Others pointed to her wholesome “All-American” personality. And, of course, she was an accomplished pilot who owned two airplanes and had logged 500 hours in the air. 

1922—Feminine altitude record of 14,000 feet.

1928—First woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in the Fokker F.VII Friendship.

1929—Feminine speed record.

1930—Feminine speed record.

1931—First woman to fly an autogiro.

1931—Autogiro altitude record of 18,415 feet.

1932—First woman (and only the second person) to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic. Also first person to cross the Atlantic twice by air.

1932—First woman to fly solo and nonstop across the United States.

1933—Reset her transcontinental record.

1935—First person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to the U.S. mainland (Oakland, California).

1935—Speed record between Mexico City and Washington, D.C.

1935—First person to fly solo from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey.


Amelia Earhart: A Life in Aviation
No other female aviator has had Amelia Earhart’s instant worldwide fame. Committed to aviation, she promoted “airmindedness” at a time when most people were skeptical about airplanes as a form of transportation. Her confident personal and media presence reached millions in the 1920s and 1930s and still resonates today.

Fame made her a role model for women and girls. She encouraged them to take control of their own lives in terms of family, education, and careers. She lobbied for birth control rights, supported women in politics and business, and endorsed the draft for men, women, and even the elderly to promote equality and peace.

Promoting Aviation
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 lobbied Congress for aviation legislation and promoted the safety and efficiency of air travel to women, on the premise that they would influence men. She held positions with two airlines and helped found two others.

Promoting the Interests of Women
While an independent-minded young woman drifting from college to flying and odd jobs, Earhart kept a scrapbook on career women. Once she became famous, she put her celebrity to work, promoting women in aviation, supporting women’s issues, and serving as a role model for young women.

“The public was skeptical of airplanes and air travel. We women of the Derby were out to prove that flying was safe: to sell aviation to the layman.”

—Louise Thaden, winner of the Women’s National Air Derby

In 1930, after only 15 minutes of instruction, Earhart became the first woman to fly an autogiro, which featured rotating blades to increase lift and allow short takeoffs and landings. The Pitcairn autogiro was a contender in the safe-to-fly/no-stall airplane movement to attract more civilian pilots.

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.

Earhart and Fashion
Like many fashion-minded celebrities today, Earhart became involved in developing her own lines of products, aided by her enterprising husband and manager/promoter George Putnam. Earhart’s endorsement of aviation and other commercial items brought her great publicity.

Her Last Flight
On May 21, 1937, Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan began a round-the-world flight, beginning in Oakland, California, and traveling east in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra. They departed Miami on June 1 and reached Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, having flown 21 of 30 days and covered 22,000 miles. They left Lae on July 2 for their next refueling stop, Howland Island. They never found it.

Following a massive sea and air search, on July 18, 1937, they were declared lost at sea.

“I have a feeling that there is just one more flight in my system.”

—Amelia Earhart, June 1, 1937, Miami, Florida.

Amelia Earhart’s Legacy
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.

What happens when one of the world’s most popular media figures vanishes from the face of the earth? 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.

Amelia Earhart Departs on Solo Flight Across Atlantic, May 20, 1932

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