Earhart's words were eagerly read by a national audience. As the first woman to successfully solo pilot an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean and return safely, she had become a national heroine in 1932 when she broke Charles Lindbergh's 1927 record. Two years after her Oakland press conference, she would attempt to add yet another world record to an already impressive list. In 1937, she planned to circumnavigate the globe, zigzagging along the equator, a journey that would cover 29,000 miles.
The first leg of her journey took her from Oakland to Hawaii, but engine problems scuttled her plans. The revised trip began that June in Miami. Flying west to east, she successfully flew 22,000 miles before landing in New Guinea one month later. All that remained was the 7000 miles across the Pacific, the route she had successfully completed in 1935. But somewhere between New Guinea and Howland Island in the Pacific, she lost radio contact with the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard and vanished into history. Neither her plane nor her body were ever found.
After Earhart perished, her story became legend-she came to embody the very definition of female courage and adventure. But in life, her accomplishments coincided with the stunning birth of the commercial airline industry.
The Wright brothers invented airplanes in 1903. Southern California, with its mild climate and strong sea breezes, became the center of airplane manufacturing. Glen Martin built his first airplane in 1906, and in the decade before World War I, engineers such as Martin, Donald Douglas, Allan Loughead (who renamed his company "Lockheed"), and John K. Northrop formed their own companies. These young industrialists offered prize money to pilots who broke speed or distance records. They staged stunt-flying contests called barn burners. And they gave free, custom-built airplanes to pilots, such as Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart, who had captured the public's attention.
At the end of World War I, the U.S. government stepped in to encourage and regulate the dangerous new industry. Charles Lindbergh, in fact, originally worked for the U.S. Postmaster, delivering mail by plane between New York and St. Louis (hence, the name of his famous transatlantic plane, The Spirit of St. Louis).
Earhart was not the first woman to get a pilot's license. Raymonde de Laroche of France came first in 1909, followed by New Yorker Harriet Quimby in 1911. Bessie Coleman became the first African American woman to get a pilot's license in 1922. But Earhart outshone them all when she broke Lindbergh's record.
Well recognized in her lifetime, Earhart became the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross and Special Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, presented by President Herbert Hoover. She also worked hard to promote opportunities for women in aviation. Earhart formed and named the "Ninety-Nines," a group of pioneering women pilots that helped train a generation of female aviators. In the 1940s, the group evolved into the Women's Air Reserve, which transported emergency supplies during disasters, and the Women Airforce Service Pilots, members of which served during World War II.
Other resources or Internet links
Amelia Earhart's Daughters: The Wild and Glorious Story of American Women Aviators from World War II to the Dawn of the Space
by Leslie Haynsworth and David M. Toomey
Official Amelia Earhart website
Department of the Navy historical records pertaining to Amelia Earhart
Website of the Ninety-Nines with page on Amelia Earhart highlighted
11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic issues in contemporary American society. (11.11.3)