American aviator Charles Lindbergh made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May of 1927. The flight took 33.5 hours and earned him the nicknames “Lucky Lindy” and “Lone Eagle.”
The Life of Charles Lindbergh
The famed pilot grew up in Minnesota on a small farm with his parents. He attended the University of Wisconsin and studied engineering, but left after two years to become a barnstormer, a daredevil stunt pilot.
“The life of an aviator seemed to me ideal. It involved skill. It brought adventure. It made use of the latest developments of science. Mechanical engineers were fettered to factories and drafting boards while pilots have the freedom of wind with the expanse of sky. There were times in an aeroplane when it seemed I had escaped mortality to look down on earth like a God.”
–Charles A. Lindbergh, 1927
Lindbergh enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1924 to become an Army Air Service Reserve pilot, graduating from the flight school as the best pilot in his class.
The Robertson Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis hired Lindbergh to fly mail between St. Louis and Chicago after his Army training. Here, his reputation as a pilot grew and he became a big promoter of Air Mail.
In 1927, Lindenberg took on the challenge to fly from New York to Paris. It was a challenge given by a hotel business owner who offered to give $25,000 to the pilot who succeeded. Many pilots were injured or killed attempting the flight, but Lindbergh succeeded in 33.5 hours. He was greeted by over 100,000 people when he landed.
The flight earned him numerous honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Congressional Medal of Honor. It also prompted him to write a book about his experience titled We. The following year, he became Time magazine’s first ever “Man of the Year” and remains the youngest MotY to date (Mark Zuckerberg is the second youngest, just one year older than Lindbergh was).
Fame, Fortune, and Tragedy
In the years following his flight to Paris, Lindbergh worked for a number of airlines as a technical advisor. The Guggenheims worked with Charles Lindbergh over the years as well, helping him to travel the world so he could give speeches about aviation and participate in parades.
It was on one of these trips that he met his future wife, Anne Marrow. He taught her to fly and they worked as a team charting routes for air travel.
They had two sons together in the early years of marriage but lost one—Charles Jr.—to a tragic kidnapping in 1932. The boy, only 20 months old, was taken from their home and the kidnapper issued a $50,000 ransom. Despite paying that ransom, their child was found dead weeks later.
Police were able to track the ransom to Bruno Hauptmann who was convicted and then executed in 1936. This tragedy prompted the U.S. Congress to make kidnapping a federal crime. It is known as the “Lindbergh law.”
The Lindberghs moved to Europe and Charles started working with a French surgeon on an artificial heart, on top of continuing his work in aviation. Over the course of his life, Lindbergh also developed cruise control techniques in American fighter planes and helped with the development of a watch designed to help pilots with navigation, which is still produced today. He also played an instrumental role in designing the Boeing 747 jet.
Check out our Aviation in about a minute video on Charles Lindbergh!
The Planes of Charles Lindbergh
At the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation’s flying school, Lindbergh first learned to fly in a two-passenger Lincoln Standard “Tourabout” biplane. Later, in 1923, he purchased a World War I surplus Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane for $500.
He sold his plane later that year and joined another pilot, Leon Klink, to continue barnstorming. He used Klink’s Curtiss JN-4C “Canuck” to fly, but damaged it in Florida shortly after a takeoff. Lindbergh made the repairs on his own then joined the U.S. Air Service not long after. Here, he experienced his most serious aerial accident when he collided his Army S.E.5 with another mid-air.
His conclusions didn’t take away from his credit as a pilot. In 1925, when working for Robertson Aircraft Corporation as a flight instructor, he flew a modified war-surplus Airco DH-4 biplane.
Some might argue that this was a turning point in his career: In 1927, Lindbergh bought a monoplane that would soon become known as the Spirit of St. Louis. It cost him $10,580. This was the plane he used in his historic flight from New York to Paris.
FUN FACT: James Stewart played the role of Charles Lindbergh in the 1957 film, “The Spirt of St. Louis.”
Charles wrote 15 books over the course of his life, including the 1954 Pulitzer Prize Biography The Spirit of St. Louis.
Lindbergh and his wife eventually moved to Hawaii where he died of cancer on August 26, 1974. He was buried at the Palapala Ho’omau Church and was survived by his wife and children.