Who Was Charles Lindbergh?
Charles Lindbergh is known as the first aviator to complete a solo transatlantic flight, which he did in his plane, Spirit of St. Louis. In 1932, his 20-month-old son was kidnapped. The Lindberghs paid the $50,000 ransom, but sadly their son's dead body was found in the nearby woods weeks later. The events made world news and added to Lindbergh's fame.
Born Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. on February 4, 1902, in Detroit, Michigan, Lindbergh became famous for making the first solo transatlantic airplane flight in 1927. Before he took to the skies, however, Lindbergh was raised on a farm in Minnesota and the son of a lawyer and a congressman.
Lindbergh studied mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin before leaving school to pursue his interest in flight. He went to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he made his first solo flight in 1923. Lindbergh became a barnstormer, or a daredevil pilot, performing at fairs and other events. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1924 and trained as an Army Air Service Reserve pilot. He later worked as an airmail pilot, flying back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago.
First Solo Transatlantic Flight
In the 1920s, hotel owner Raymond Orteig was offering a prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to make the journey from New York to Paris without making any stops. Lindbergh wanted to win this challenge and enlisted the support of some St. Louis businessmen. Several others had tried and failed, but this didn't deter him. Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York, on May 20, 1927. Flying a monoplane named Spirit of St Louis, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
Lindbergh landed at Le Bourguet Field near Paris after 33.5 hours in the air. During his groundbreaking trip, he had traveled more than 3,600 miles. Upon his arrival, Lindbergh was welcomed by more than 100,000 people who came to see aviation history in the making. After his daring feat, large crowds enthusiastically greeted wherever he went. Lindbergh received many prestigious honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross medal from President Calvin Coolidge.
Lindbergh dedicated much of his time to promoting the field of aviation. Traveling around the country, he flew his famous plane to different cities where he gave speeches and participated in parades. The public couldn't get enough of Lindbergh — his book on the legendary flight entitled We (1927) became a best seller. Nicknamed "Lucky Lindy" and "The Lone Eagle," he became an international celebrity and he tried to use that fame to help aviation and other causes he believed in.
During a trip to Latin America, he met Anne Morrow in Mexico whom he wed in 1929. The next year, he taught her how to fly a plane, and the two enjoyed the privacy that flying afforded them. Together they charted routes for commercial air travel around the world.
Kidnapping and Later Career
Seeking a life away from the spotlight, Lindbergh and his wife went to live on an estate in Hopewell, New Jersey. The couple started a family with the birth of their first child, Charles Augustus, Jr. At only 20 months old, the boy was kidnapped from their home in 1932. The crime made headlines around the world. The Lindberghs paid the $50,000 ransom, but their son's dead body was found in the nearby woods weeks later.
The police traced the ransom money to Bruno Hauptmann, a carpenter with a criminal record, and arrested him for the crime. To compound Lindbergh's grief, the ensuing trial of his son's accused killer became a media frenzy. Hauptmann was convicted and later executed in 1936.
To escape the constant media attention, the couple moved to Europe, living in England and then France. Around this time, Lindbergh did some scientific research, inventing an early type of artificial heart with a French surgeon. He also continued his work in aviation, serving on the board of directors for Pan-American World Airways and acting as a special advisor at times. Lindbergh was invited to tour German aviation facilities by Nazi leader Hermann Göring and was impressed by what he saw.
Concerned that German air power was unbeatable, Lindbergh became involved with the America First Organization, which advocated that the United States stay neutral in the war in Europe. His position on the war eroded his public support, and some believed that he had Nazi sympathies. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, Lindbergh became active in the war effort, working with Henry Ford on bombers and acting as an advisor and test pilot for United Aircraft.
Final Years and Death
After the war, Lindbergh wrote several books, including Of Flight and Life (1948) and The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), which won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize. He also lobbied for environmental preservation. In his later years, he and his wife moved to the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Lindbergh died of cancer on August 26, 1974, in his remote Maui home. He was survived by his wife and five children: Jon, Land, Anne, Scott and Reeve. Reports surfaced in 2003 that he had three other children with a German woman with whom he reportedly had a long-term affair.
Despite any personal controversies, Lindbergh is credited with helping to usher in the age of commercial aviation. His incredible acts of courage continue to inspire others. His grandson, Erik Lindbergh, recreated the flight that made his grandfather famous in 2002.
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