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Amelia Earhart was an American aviator who set many flying records and championed the advancement of women in aviation. She became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first person ever to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. During a flight to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in July 1937. Her plane wreckage was never found, and she was officially declared lost at sea. Her disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897. She defied traditional gender roles from a young age. Earhart played basketball, took an auto repair course and briefly attended college.
During World War I, she served as a Red Cross nurse’s aid in Toronto, Canada. Earhart began to spend time watching pilots in the Royal Flying Corps train at a local airfield while in Toronto.
After the war, she returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University in New York as a pre-med student. Earhart took her first airplane ride in California in December 1920 with famed World War I pilot Frank Hawks—and was forever hooked.
In January 1921, she started flying lessons with female flight instructor Neta Snook. To help pay for those lessons, Earhart worked as a filing clerk at the Los Angeles Telephone Company. Later that year, she purchased her first airplane, a secondhand Kinner Airster. She nicknamed the yellow airplane “the Canary.”
Earhart passed her flight test in December 1921, earning a National Aeronautics Association license. Two days later, she participated in her first flight exhibition at the Sierra Airdrome in Pasadena, California.
Earhart’s Aviation Records
Earhart set a number of aviation records in her short career. Her first record came in 1922 when she became the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet.
In 1932, Earhart became the first woman (and second person after Charles Lindbergh) to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She left Newfoundland, Canada, on May 20 in a red Lockheed Vega 5B and arrived a day later, landing in a cow field near Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Upon returning to the United States, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross—a military decoration awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” She was the first woman to receive the honor.
Later that year, Earhart made the first solo, nonstop flight across the United States by a woman. She started in Los Angeles and landed 19 hours later in Newark, New Jersey. She also became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the United States mainland in 1935.
Earhart consistently worked to promote opportunities for women in aviation.
In 1929, after placing third in the All-Women’s Air Derby—the first transcontinental air race for women—Earhart helped to form the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of female pilots.
She became the first president of the organization of licensed pilots, which still exists today and represents women flyers from 44 countries.
1937 Flight Around the World
On June 1, 1937, Amelia Earhart took off from Oakland, California, on an eastbound flight around the world. It was her second attempt to become the first pilot ever to circumnavigate the globe.
She flew a twin-engine Lockheed 10E Electra and was accompanied on the flight by navigator Fred Noonan. They flew to Miami, then down to South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, then east to India and Southeast Asia.
The pair reached Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. When they reached Lae, they already had flown 22,000 miles. They had 7,000 more miles to go before reaching Oakland.
What Happened to Amelia Earhart?
Earhart and Noonan departed Lae for tiny Howland Island—their next refueling stop—on July 2. It was the last time Earhart was seen alive. She and Noonan lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, anchored off the coast of Howland Island, and disappeared en route.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized a massive two-week search for the pair, but they were never found. On July 19, 1937, Earhart and Noonan were declared lost at sea.
Scholars and aviation enthusiasts have proposed many theories about what happened to Amelia Earhart. The official position from the U.S. government is that Earhart and Noonan crashed into the Pacific Ocean, but there are numerous theories regarding their disappearance.
Crash and Sink Theory
According to the crash and sink theory, Earhart’s plane ran out of gas while she searched for Howland Island, and she crashed into the open ocean somewhere in the vicinity of the island.
Several expeditions over the past 15 years have attempted to locate the plane’s wreckage on the sea floor near Howland. High-tech sonar and deep-sea robots have failed to yield clues about the Electra’s crash site.
Gardner Island Hypothesis
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) postulates that Earhart and Noonan veered off-course from Howland Island and landed instead some 350 miles to the Southwest on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the Republic of Kiribati. The island was uninhabited at the time.
A week after Earhart’s disappeared, Navy planes flew over the island. They noted recent signs of habitation but found no evidence of an airplane.
TIGHAR believes that Earhart—and perhaps Noonan—may have survived for days or even weeks on the island as castaways before dying there. Since 1988, several TIGHAR expeditions to the island have turned up artifacts and anecdotal evidence in support of this hypothesis.
Some of the artifacts include a piece of Plexiglas that may have come from the Electra’s window, a woman’s shoe dating back to the 1930s, improvised tools, a woman’s cosmetics jar from the 1930s and bones that appeared to be part of a human finger.
In June 2017, a TIGHAR-led expedition arrived on Nikumaroro with four forensically trained bone-sniffing border collies to search the island for any skeletal remains of Earhart or Noonan. The search turned up no bones or DNA.
In August 2019, Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer known for locating the wreck of the Titanic, led a team to search for Earhart's plane in the waters around Nikumaroro. They saw no signs of the Electra.
Other Theories About Earhart’s Disappearance
There are numerous conspiracy theories about Earhart’s disappearance. One theory posits that Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed by the Japanese.
Another theory claims that the pair served as spies for the Roosevelt administration and assumed new identities upon returning to the United States.
READ MORE: Tantalizing Theories About the Earhart Disappearance
The Life of Amelia Earhart: Purdue Libraries.
Amelia Earhart: Missing for 80 Years But Not Forgotten: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Model, Static, Lockheed Electra, Amelia Earhart: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Exclusive: Bone-Sniffing Dogs to Hunt for Amelia Earhart’s Remains: National Geographic.
Where Is Amelia Earhart? Three Theories but No Smoking Gun: National Geographic.
The Earhart Project: The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).
She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this record. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. Earhart joined the faculty of the Purdue University aviation department in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and help inspire others with her love for aviation. She was also a member of the National Woman's Party, and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.
During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10 Electra, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.
She came from a broken home
Earhart learned early on that a woman's life can't revolve around a man. That sounds like a pretty obvious piece of advice, but for a girl living at the turn of the century, it was revolutionary. Earhart was born in 1897 and lived a happy life as a tomboy in Atchison, Kansas until her dad, Edwin, picked up a new hobby — alcoholism. According to the book Amelia Earhart: Flying Solo, Earhart and her sister lived in constant fear of what their dad might do if he came home drunk. When Edwin decided that getting wasted was more important than supporting his family, Amelia's mother Amy moved the girls to Chicago to start over.
Now, this isn't a single-mother sob story. It was a daring move for Amy to leave her husband, but the family didn't end up destitute on the mean streets of Chicago. Amy had a healthy trust fund to keep the family afloat, according to Flying Solo. Still, a teenaged Earhart saw firsthand that a woman can be the breadwinner and life goes on whether you have a man or not.
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.
Here are 10 facts you may not know about this famous aviator:
- Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897.
- Amelia saw her first plane at a state fair when she was 10 years old.
- During World War I, Amelia became a nurse's aid in Toronto, Canada, to tend to wounded soldiers.
- On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave Amelia her first ride in an airplane.
- Amelia took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921.
- Amelia&rsquos first plane was a bright yellow Kinner Airster that she nicknamed, "The Canary".
- While living in Boston, Amelia wrote articles promoting flying in the local newspaper.
- In 1932, Amelia developed flying clothes for the Ninety-Nines that were advertised in Vogue.
- Although she referred to herself as &ldquoAE&rdquo, Amelia became known as &ldquoLady Lindy&rdquo after her first flight across the Atlantic.
- During her 2,408-mile flight to become the first person to fly solo across the Pacific, Amelia enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate.
. plus more fun facts!
11. Amelia didn't like wearing goggles while flying. Learn more about her goggles found in The Children's Museum's permanent collection.
12. Amelia also didn't like coffee or tea. Learn more about how she stayed awake while flying.
Amelia isn't the only person who overcame the odds and wrote her story in history. In our Power of Children ® exhibit you can learn about three extraordinary children who helped change the world&mdashRuby Bridges, Anne Frank, and Ryan White.
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.
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.
Doctors speculate the remains are hers
It was Dr. Duncan Macpherson, the central medical authority in the Western Pacific High Commission , who examined the remains. In the fall of 1941, Macpherson told authorities that it was difficult to decisively ascertain whether the remains belonged to Amelia Earhart. The bones that remained missing happened to be the skeletal clues needed to accurately determine the identity in their analysis.
125345 14: Photo of pilot Amelia Earhart standing by her plane. (Photo by Getty Images)
Dr. Macpherson concluded that the tests on the remains found on Nikumaroro were inconclusive. It wasn&rsquot until the remains were sent to a second physician that the identity of the person to whom thy once belonged could be determined, once again resurrecting hope that Earhart&rsquos final resting place had been found.
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,
Amelia Earhart: Using Fashion to Inspire Flight
Today we celebrate Amelia Earhart’s birthday as well as her accomplishments in flight and as a public figure. Most are familiar with Earhart’s aviation career and her mysterious disappearance, but her other achievements can be easily overlooked.
Did you know Earhart created a clothing line called “Amelia Fashions” in 1933? Earhart had been interested in flying apparel for women for years. At the beginning of her career, Earhart had to wear aviation suits that were designed for men and poorly fitted for a woman. There was nothing else available.
Amelia’s fashion line was made up of wrinkle-free dresses, skirts, pants, and outerwear. Some designs even used materials such as parachute silk and fabric used for airplane wings. The outfits were crafted for practicality and designed to suit the needs of “active women.” They broke the mold for traditional women’s dress during the 1930s.
While ultimately unsuccessful, “Amelia Fashions” set an example for women everywhere that there was nothing they could not do whether that meant flying a plane or becoming a designer.
Although Amelia herself was shy, she did not back down from the task of elevating the role of women in aviation and society. Serving as the first president for the Ninety-Nines, a society of female aviators, Earhart set out to prove that women didn’t have to fit into the role that was expected of them at the time. Amelia encouraged her fellow female pilots to fly more often with her “Hat of the Month” program, which awarded the Ninety-Nine who flew into the most airports with a Stetson hat she had designed herself.
She also designed a practical two-piece flying suit with interlocking “9s” for the Ninety-Nines, although it was never formally adopted. The suit is on display in our Pioneers of Flight gallery.
In 1935, Phoebe Omlie said in an article for the National Aeronautics Magazine that Amelia was, “all woman and one that the other women of America can proudly put up as an example of their contribution to the progress of this great generation.”
In a conversation with Louise Thaden, Amelia once said, “We can fly — you know that.” But Amelia was not satisfied keeping this knowledge between herself and other female aviators. Even though proving to the world that women were smart, capable flyers was often like butting their heads “into a stone wall,” Amelia and her peers in the Ninety-Nines decided to change society’s perception of women through flight and, occasionally, through fashion.