Amelia Earhart Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. She was the daughter of a railroad attorney and had a younger sister named Muriel. Amelia was a tomboy and was always interested in learning. She was educated at Columbia University and Harvard Summer School. She taught English to immigrant factory workers. During World War I, Amelia was a volunteer in a Red Cross hospital.
Amelia heard of a woman pilot, Neta Snook, who gave flying lessons. She had her first lesson on January 2, 1921. On July 24, 1921, Amelia bought her first plane, a prototype of the Kinner airplane and named it “The Canary.” In 1928, she accepted the invitation of the American pilots Wilmer Stultzman and Louis Gordon to join them on a transatlantic flight, becoming the first woman to make the crossing by air She described the flight in a book she wrote, 20 Hours. 40 Minutes. After that flight, Amelia made a career of flying.
Aviation was a new concept and the industry looked for ways to improve its image. In 1921, Amelia was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager and Transcontinental Air Transport (TWA) with a special responsibility of attracting women passengers. Amelia organized a cross-country air race for women pilots in 1929, the Los Angeles to Cleveland Women’s Air Derby, later called the “Powder Puff Derby.” Amelia placed third in this race. After the race, Amelia had a meeting in her hotel room in Cleveland with other women pilots. She formed a women’s pilot organization called the “Ninety-Nines” because of the ninety-nine applicants.
She served as the organization’s first president. Amelia continued to work for TWA and was writing regular articles for Cosmopolitan and other magazines, and had speaking engagements in many cities across the country. In 1930, she broke several women’s speed records in her Lockheed Vega aircraft. In 1931, she wrote a book about those exciting experiences called The Fun of It. By early 1932, no other person had successfully flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean since Charles Lindbergh.
Amelia decided she would be the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic. She would not duplicate Lindbergh’s course, but would fly from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and the British Isles would be her destination. On May 20, 1932, exactly five years after the Lindbergh flight, Amelia’s modified Lockheed Vega began the journey. Since she did not drink coffee or tea, she would keep awake by using smelling salts. All she took with her to eat and drink on this trip was water, soup, and tomato juice.
Amelia broke several records on this flight. She was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean solo, the only person to fly it twice, it was the longest non-stop distance flown by a woman, and the flight set a record for crossing the Atlantic in the shortest time. When Amelia returned to New York after her famous flight, she was honored by a ticker tape parade. President Roosevelt presented her with the Special Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society. Honors of all kinds were given to Amelia, as well as keys to many cities in the United States. The United States Congress awarded her with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Amelia was voted as Woman of the Year which she accepted on behalf of all women.
Amelia’s next venture would be a transpacific flight from Hawaii to California, then on the Washington D.C. Ten pilots had already lost their lives attempting this crossing. She departed Wheeler Field in Honolulu and landed in Oakland, California to a cheering crowd of thousands. After this flight, Amelia was busy on the road almost non-stop with her lecture tours. During this time, she accepted an appointment at Purdue University in Indiana. She would be a consultant in the Department for the Study of Careers for Women.
Later in 1935, Amelia began to make plans for an around the world flight. This flight would be two major firsts. She would be the first woman to fly around the world and she would travel the longest possible distance, 29,000 miles, following a route around the equator. Frederick Noonan, a former Pan Am Airlines navigator was chosen as the flight’s navigator because he was familiar with the Pacific area. The plane chosen for the flight was the Lockheed Electra 10E. The first leg of their journey would be from Oakland, California to Hawaii on March 17, 1935.
In Hawaii, Amelia had an accident during take-off from Luke Field near Pearl Harbor. A great deal of damage was done to the plane. On June 1, 1937, Amelia and Frederick Noonan left Miami, Florida to once again begin their around the world flight. After many stops in South America, Africa, the India, and Southeast Asia, they arrived at Lae, New Guinea on June 29. About 22,000 miles of the journey had been completed and there were 7,000 miles more to go, all of them over the Pacific Ocean.
Photos taken at Lae show Amelia looking very tired and ill. On July 2, 1937 at 00:00 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), Amelia and Frederick took off from Lae with 1,000 gallons of fuel, allowing for 20-21 hours of flying time. Their intended destination was Howland Island, a tiny piece of land a few miles long, twenty feet high, and 2,556 miles away. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca was stationed near Howland Island and was assigned to communicate with Amelia’s plane and guide her to the island. Several short radio transmissions were received by the Itasca, but they were unable to get a fix on her location because the radio contact had been too brief. At 19:30 GMT, almost twenty hours into the flight, the following transmission was received from the Electra; “KHAQQ calling Itasca.
We must be on you, but cannot see you..gas running low..” . After six hours of trying to communicate with the Electra, all contact was lost. A search by the Navy and Coast Guard was organized and no physical evidence of the Electra or of Amelia Earhart or Frederick Noonan was ever found. Over the years, many unconfirmed sightings have been reported and there are many theories of their fate. Some of those theories are that Amelia was a on a spy mission authorized by President Roosevelt and was captured; that she purposely dove her aircraft into the Pacific; they were captured by the Japanese, Noonan was executed and Earhart was forced to broadcast to the American GI’s as “Tokyo Rose” during World War II; and another theory is that Amelia lived for years on an island in the South Pacific with a native fisherman.
In 1961 it was thought that the bones of Earhart and Noonan had been found on the island of Saipan, but they turned out to be those of Saipan natives. In 1992, a search party reported finding remnants of the Electra at Nikumaroro, Kiribati, but those claims were disputed by people who worked on Earhart’s plane. Researches believe that the plane ran out of fuel and that Earhart and Noonan died at sea. Amelia Earhart spent most of her lifetime establishing the permanent role of women in aviation. She became an international heroine overnight as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia’s disappearance is still a mystery, but her enduring legacy remains.