Read an Excerpt
Charles A. Lindbergh
A Photographic Album
By Joshua Stoff
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1995 Joshua Stoff
All rights reserved.
Almost literally overnight, Charles A. Lindbergh was transformed from an obscure airmail pilot into the most famous aviator in the world. At the age of 25, he had accomplished what no man had done before, having flown nonstop from New York to Paris, 3,600 miles across the cold waters of the Atlantic. Moreover, he did it alone, in a small single-engine monoplane. The danger and daring of such a feat are highlighted by the fact that to this day no one else has flown alone, nonstop, from New York to Paris in a single-engine plane. Not only did this accomplishment make Lindbergh a hero and one of the most lionized personalities in the world for decades, it popularized, even revolutionized aviation like no other single event before or since, with the possible exception of the pioneering flight of the Wright brothers. Now, more than 65 years later, Lindbergh's achievement— as well as other events in his life, at least one of them tragic—justly continues to receive attention in new books and articles added to the stream of writings that have made him one of the most studied and celebrated heroes in American history.
Lindbergh's grandfather, August Lindbergh, was a lawyer and a reform member of the Swedish parliament who emigrated to Minnesota when Charles's father was an infant. Charles's father, Charles August Lindbergh, Sr. (distinguished here as "Sr." from his son—"Jr."—though their names were not precisely the same), also became a lawyer and in 1884 established a practice in Little Falls, Minnesota, living on a 120-acre farm there. In 1901 he married a local schoolteacher, Miss Evangeline Lodge Land. On February 4, 1902, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was born in his maternal grandparents' house in Detroit. Two months later, he was taken to Little Falls.
Charles's maternal grandfather, Dr. (so called though he had never formally taken a degree) Charles H. Land, a pioneer dentist, scientist and inventor, was a major formative influence on his young grandson. Lindbergh's mother, with a degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan, was exceptionally well educated for a woman of her day, and she further encouraged her son's interest in science. Outings with his father sparked a love in young Charles for the robust outdoor life. In Minnesota, encouraged to be self-sufficient, Charles was taught to shoot at age six, though he could hardly lift his rifle. At age eleven Charles was taught to drive and became fascinated by the inner working of automobiles. During his childhood he was enrolled in eleven different schools, but he altogether disliked every one of them. Always a loner, he preferred to pursue his favorite studies on his own.
Charles Lindbergh, Sr., a Roosevelt Republican with a radical, reformist bent, became deeply committed to social reform and was elected to Congress in 1906. Thereafter the family spent much of the year in Washington, D.C. When war broke out in Europe, Congressman Lindbergh, critical of the political influence of big business, opposed American entry into World War I, which he saw as a connivance solely in the interests of the giant corporate trusts and Wall Street financial institutions. His father's political position undoubtedly had a heavy influence on Charles Junior's later thinking.
During his last two years in Little Falls, Charles ran his father's farm, and then in 1920 he entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study engineering. Less than two years later, he gave up school to learn to fly.
Lindbergh decided upon a career in aviation because flying seemed an ideal combination of his interests in science and the outdoors. After receiving informal flying instruction in Nebraska in 1922, he performed for a time with a Midwestern barnstorming troupe. In 1923, with financial assistance from his father, Charles purchased his first airplane, a World War I surplus Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny." For a while he barnstormed alone in his Jenny, but then, tired of its limitations and yearning to fly newer, more advanced aircraft, he joined the Army Air Service, which offered the only opportunity to do this.
At training fields in Texas in 1924 and 1925, flying Cadet Lindbergh found that without qualifying grades he could not pass the tests to become a commissioned pilot. For the first time he realized the importance of hard study in achieving his goals, and the formerly indifferent student now aimed at perfection, became a dedicated scholar and graduated first in his class. In March 1925 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserve. On the way to this goal he had had considerable practical flying experience as well, sometimes risking his life, as when he made a narrow escape by parachute in a midair collision. In June he made a second emergency parachute jump after a civil airplane he was testing refused to come out of a spin.
After several months of instructing in the St. Louis area, Lindbergh was appointed chief pilot of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, leading to his initiating the first airmail flight between St. Louis and Chicago in April 1926. Thereafter, Lindbergh regularly flew this mail run in a De Havilland DH-4.
Lack of proper instrumentation, landing fields, lighting devices and accurate weather forecasts all made flying the mail extremely dangerous at this time. Twice Lindbergh was forced to make emergency parachute jumps after running out of fuel at night in poor weather.
At least a pilot had time to himself. It was during the lonely hours flying the mail at night that Lindbergh conceived the idea of competing for the Orteig Prize of $25,000, offered in 1919 for the first nonstop flight between Paris and New York. Lindbergh was intrigued by the idea of publicly demonstrating how the airplane could safely link the New World with the Old, at the same time giving the civilian pilot enhanced credibility. Winning the money was not his prime objective; the Orteig Prize would barely cover the cost of the plane, the fuel and all necessary equipment. As for the danger, Lindbergh could not imagine the weather being worse or the flight more dangerous than what he had already experienced flying the mail.
Not luck, as claimed by the press, but experience and expert planning insured the success of Lindbergh's flight. Every detail was carefully thought out. He decided upon a single-engine plane because it would have greater range than a multiengine plane and could be more streamlined, as the engine would be in the nose. Furthermore, Lindbergh felt that a multiengine plane would be no safer anyway because it couldn't fly for very long after even one of its three engines had stopped.
At the time the best planes available of the type needed were made by Bellanca. Lindbergh had been turned down in his attempt to buy one, however, so, instead, with the backing of eight St. Louis businessmen, he ordered, from the Ryan Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, a specially designed aircraft to be custom-built in two months. The Ryan "NYP" (for "New York to Paris"), a high-wing monoplane, was a variation of one of Ryan's reliable mail planes. An enormous fuel tank was installed, blocking the pilot's forward vision, and power was provided by the Wright J-5 "Whirlwind," one of the most reliable engines of the day. Given the technology of the time, this was the best possible plane for the task at hand.
Having concluded flight testing by early May 1927, Lindbergh flew his plane, now called the Spirit of St. Louis (in appreciation of the funding by the businessmen from that city), from San Diego to St. Louis and on to Curtiss Field, Long Island, about twenty miles east of the center of New York City. Lindbergh attracted a great deal of attention in New York, partly because he had made the crosscountry flight in record time. There were other reasons as well. Lindbergh was young and of an "all-American" type, although he was also a quiet loner. Of the three major trans-Atlantic competitors, he was the only one who planned to attempt the crossing alone.
For a while, conditions were not right. Lindbergh spent several days tuning his plane, knocking about the New York area, and waiting at the Garden City Hotel for the weather to clear. He had stored his Ryan at Curtiss Field, but on the rainy morning of May 20 he had it moved east to neighboring Roosevelt Field, which had a longer runway. Weighing his chances, Lindbergh had decided that this was his moment.
At 7:52 A.M., Lindbergh headed his silver monoplane eastward down the muddy mile-long runway, heavily loaded with 2,750 pounds of fuel (slightly more than the aircraft had been designed to take off with). At liftoff, he barely cleared the trees at the end of the runway.
Once Lindbergh was aloft, the entire country prayed for him. Many stood transfixed by their radios as they listened for news of his journey. The "Lone Eagle" was heading into the unknown.
After a flight of 33 hours and 30 minutes, in which he stubbornly fought off drowsiness and was called upon to exercise his remarkable navigational skills, the exhausted Lindbergh arrived triumphantly in Paris.
More than any other single flight since the Wright brothers, Lindbergh's triumph revolutionized aviation. For one thing, from a technological standpoint, his timing couldn't have been better. Lindbergh made his crossing at a time when more reliable aircraft engines with better power-to-weight ratios, as well as improved navigational devices, had begun to bring long-range flying reasonably within reach of the average citizen.
Moreover, the style of Lindbergh's achievement appealed greatly to the public. It enhanced the credibility of the civilian pilot and demonstrated the enormous potential of aviation. Although the Spirit of St. Louis was itself of no possible use as an airliner, it stimulated the public's imagination. People began to give serious thought to traveling by air, and this soon led to the explosive development of the American aircraft industry.
Previously, only the military and sport values of aviation had been demonstrated. Even the airmail system had been little utilized. In the year following Lindbergh's flight, however, the number of passengers carried on commercial airliners quadrupled as public confidence in them soared. This marked the real beginning of commercial aviation. Lindbergh had foreseen this when he wrote, earlier in 1927, "The year will surely come when passengers and mail will fly every day from America to Europe."
Following his epoch-making flight, his return to New York and a week of celebrations there and in Washington, Lindbergh went to St. Louis to thank his backers. All the while he was contemplating his future role in the development of aviation. He saw himself now less as a pioneer than as a missionary bringing the gospel of aviation to the people of America. He had personally demonstrated what the airplane was capable of. Now he had to incite the public to provide municipal airfields and whatever else was necessary to support commercial aviation. Then, starting in July 1927, Lindbergh began a 22,000-mile tour of the United States on behalf of the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. This three-month tour demonstrated with clockwork precision that airplanes could now safely fly to specific places at predetermined times. Next, President Calles of Mexico invited Lindbergh on an official visit. He responded on December 13 by flying nonstop from Washington to Mexico City in 27 hours, 15 minutes. From there he headed south on a 9,000-mile goodwill tour of Latin America, and finally, in April 1928, he delivered the Spirit of St. Louis to the Smithsonian Institution, where it still hangs today.
After this, working as a consultant for several companies, Lindbergh surveyed air routes and promoted airport development. As Technical Committee Chairman for Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), he helped develop the first transcontinental airline service, which began in 1929. The line soon became TWA, which, like TAT, was known as "The Lindbergh Line." Lindbergh also worked as a consultant for Pan American Airways and set up the earliest Caribbean airline routes. Through all this, although he yearned for a quiet life, Lindbergh remained the target of intense media publicity.
In May 1929, Lindbergh married Anne Morrow, daughter of the American Ambassador to Mexico, whom he had met on his 1927 flight there. Later in 1929 Anne assisted her husband in yet more work for both TAT and Pan Am, and they worked together on archaeological survey flights to discover Mayan ruins. Throughout, Lindbergh remained an object of unprecedented public adulation.
In 1929, Lindbergh heard of the pioneering rocketry experiments of Dr. Robert Goddard. Believing that rocket propulsion would have a great deal to do with the future of aviation, Lindbergh became very interested in Goddard's work and he obtained financial assistance for him from the Carnegie Institution and from the father of his millionaire friend Harry Guggenheim. By the mid-1930's, in New Mexico, he was able to see the first hesitant steps into rocket-propelled flight that would one day carry humans to the moon.
In June 1930 a son, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., was born. As always, the news media used the occasion to churn up a sea of publicity. At this time Lindbergh continued to act as a consultant for TAT and Pan Am. He also began a new phase of his life after he and Anne had moved into a country home not far from Princeton, N.J. At Princeton University, he became interested in the work of the controversial scientist Dr. Alexis Carrel, who at this time was trying to perfect the "perfusion pump," a predecessor of the modern artificial heart. Over the next few years, when not on survey flights, Lindbergh spent much time working in Carrel's laboratory. The pioneering aviator proved also to be a highly competent scientist, and made significant contributions. Later, Lindbergh, alone or in collaboration with Carrel, wrote several articles on their work, which were published in various scientific journals. He also collaborated with Carrel on a book describing their work, The Culture of Organs, published in 1938.
In 1930 Lindbergh also ordered a specially built monoplane, a Lockheed "Sirius." Upon its completion, Charles and Anne flew it from Los Angeles to New York, setting a new transcontinental speed record. In New York it was fitted with EDO floats in place of wheels, and with state-of-the-art radio and emergency equipment, making it without doubt the most advanced seaplane in the world at that time.
Beginning on July 27,1931, this specially improved Sirius was used by the Lindberghs for a long survey flight by the Great Circle route over northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia, and then down to Japan and China, where they departed from their original plans to assist a famine-relief team from the Rockefeller Institute working in the Yangtze valley with victims of flooding. In October, in Hangkow, the Sirius was badly damaged as it was being lowered from the deck of an aircraft carrier where it was being stored, and the Lindberghs themselves, who were inside the plane, had a narrow escape. Although their 10,000-mile flight (clearly the longest ever made by a floatplane without preplanned assistance) had been cut short, they had still made valuable discoveries about seaplane harbors in remote areas where no airplane had ever landed before.
Then, on March 1, 1932, came a shock that changed the Lindberghs' lives forever. Their twenty-month-old son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped from their home in rural New Jersey. Two months later the child's corpse was discovered in the woods not far away. For most of this period the Lindberghs' time was occupied by the hunt for the culprit. Naturally, the news media pounced on the affair and soon the world knew of the tragedy, which became one of the most notorious crimes in history. Though Lindbergh had always had an antagonistic relationship with the press, at first he swallowed his pride and enlisted their help. When one of the tabloids published an unauthorized picture of the child's mangled corpse, however, this reinforced his conviction that the press was fundamentally irresponsible, and for some time, with occasional carefully chosen exceptions, he refused to have anything to do with journalists.
Excerpted from Charles A. Lindbergh by Joshua Stoff. Copyright © 1995 Joshua Stoff. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Charles A. Lindbergh: A Photographic Album,