She was only the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic… ever
Amelia Earhart is best known for being the first woman to complete the feat, but it wasn’t like a whole slew of men had accomplished the task before her. She was only the second person ever to do it! The first was Charles Lindbergh, who made the flight in May 1927. Earhart did it in May 1932. She completed the flight in just shy of 15 hours.
The first time she saw an airplane, she was unimpressed
After Earhart’s disappearance, several of her diary entries were published as a book called Last Flight. In one, she recalls the first time she ever saw an airplane. She was ten years old, visiting a state fair in Iowa. She remembers seeing “a thing of rusty wire and wood” that “looked not at all interesting.” Even after someone standing nearby told her that the contraption could fly, Earhart still admitted that she was more impressed with the fancy hat she had just purchased. Little did young Amelia know what the future held.
She wasn’t quite as ahead of her time as you might think
While the playing field in the 1920s and ’30s was far from even, Earhart was not actually the only successful female pilot of the time. Several of her contemporaries were also women who were just as good, if not better, fliers than she. Louise Thaden, for instance, set new records for women’s speed, altitude, and solo-endurance flying in 1929 and remains the only pilot to hold all three records at the same time. Another pioneer, Ruth Nicols, set women’s flight records for speed, altitude, and distance two years later. Earhart was, however, the first female pilot to gain such wide notoriety. Her contemporaries definitely count as amazing women in history that you may not have heard of.
She was hand-picked for the feat that would make her famous
After Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, publisher George Putnam hoped to duplicate the success and massive media attention that Lindbergh had enjoyed. His opportunity came when a socialite named Amy Phipps Guest bought a small passenger plane with the hopes of becoming the first woman to be flown across the Atlantic. (She was not a pilot.) But her parents refused to let her take such a risky journey. So Guest turned to Putnam, requesting that he find “the right sort of girl” to make the trip in Guest’s stead. Putnam chose Amelia Earhart, capitalizing on her existing passion for flying as well as her resemblance to Lindbergh. He fed the press a nickname for her—”Lady Lindy”—that would become widespread.
She set three impressive records in the same year
In the first five months of 1935, Earhart became the first person—not just woman—to make three impressive flights. That January, she flew 2,408 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California, the first person ever to do so alone. In April, she flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City; less than a month later, she flew from Mexico City to Newark. None of those flights had ever been made alone before, by a man or a woman. You go, girl!
She may actually have survived her final flight
Tragically, Amelia Earhart’s fame is bolstered by her mysterious disappearance in 1937. Accompanied by her navigator, Fred Noonan, she set out to fly around the entire world. But on July 2, after the pair set out on the final leg of their trip, which would take them across the southern Pacific Ocean, the plane simply vanished. Though the government conducted a massive search—the most expensive of its kind at the time—no trace of them or their plane was ever found.
This, of course, led many people to theorize that she had actually survived. In July 2017, a mysterious photo was discovered, appearing to show Earhart and Noonan on the Japanese-controlled island of Saipan, that seemed to prove those theorists true. However, the photo has no date, and its legitimacy has been seriously questioned, just like these other conspiracy theories still floating around about Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.