Capsule Biographies

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Born at Atchison KS, July 24, 1898. Disappeared at sea July 2, 1937.

Amelia Mary Earhart was ten years old when she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. Contrary to popular belief, it was not love at first sight; it would be more than a decade before her interest in aviation surfaced.

After visiting her sister at a Canadian college, she remained in Toronto to train as a nurse, and served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in a military hospital until the armistice of World War I was signed. In the fall of 1919 she enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University. Several months later, however, at an aerial meet in California, her role in life began to change from nursing to flying. After a ten-minute ride in a biplane, her heart was lost—"As soon as we left the ground, I knew I had to fly!" Soon after, Earhart began taking lessons from pioneer flyer, Anita "Neta" Snook, earning FAI pilot license #6017.

By October 1922 Earhart began participating in record-breaking attempts and set a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet. She helped organize the first Women's Air Derby. In Columbus, the last stop before the finish, Earhart was tied for first place. Co-leader Ruth Nichols crashed on take-off and, behind her, Earhart leaped from her plane and pulled the shaken but uninjured Nichols from the wreckage. Earhart then resumed the race, but arrived in Cleveland in third place. Earhart's numerous records that furthered the advancement of flying and women's place in aviation were important to her. In 1928 Captain H H Railey changed her life forever when he asked, "How would you like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic?" Although she was only a passenger aboard The Friendship, on June 17, 1928, she became a first in history books.

Earhart entered three Bendix Transcontinental air races "for fun of it." In 1933 she took the special prize for first female to finis. In 1935 she calculated that the best finish that could hope for with her badly underpowered Lockheed Vega would be fifth place. She cruised in to collect enough prize money to pay her expenses, and fully enjoyed the exhilaration of the cross-country flight.

In the early '30s, she set a women's speed record of 181mph and a distance record of 2,026.5 miles. She flew an autogiro, the predecessor of the helicopter, to an altitude record of 18,415'. On May 21, 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the only person to fly across it twice, setting records for the longest non-stop distance flown by a woman and for crossing in the shortest time, as well. She set and re-set women's transcontinental speed records, also claimed many firsts and speed records for point-to-point flights.

After marrying George Putnam in 1931, Earhart accepted a part-time job at Purdue University, counseling female students. Her message to them stressed their entitlement, and near obligation, to break with tradition to achieve goals in life—to be the first was an honor to be sought, not feared.

On her last flight, to circle the globe at the equator in 1937, she missed tiny Howland Island in the Pacific, but landed permanently in legend when she disappeared. Later a beacon would be constructed in her name on Howland as a fitting guide for others.

  -- Amelia Earhart, Donald Goldstein & Katherine Dillon (? 1997)
  -- Amelia Earhart, A Biography; Doris Rich (Smithsonian 1989)
  -- Amelia Earhart, Pioneer in the Sky; John Parlin (Garrard 1962)
  -- Amelia Earhart, Aviation Pioneer; Roxane Chadwick (paperback 1991)
  -- Amelia Earhart Flies around the World; Kath Davies (? 1994)
  -- The Fun of It; autobiography (Brewer Warren & Putnam 1932, ? 1975, Academy Chicago 1992)
  -- Last Flight; Amelia Earhart (Harcourt Brace 1937, Harrap & Co 1938, Crown/Orion 1988)
  -- Letters From Amelia 1901-1937, An Intimate Portrait; Jean L Backus (Beacon Pres 1982)
  -- The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart; Mary S Lovell (St Martin's 1989)
  -- The Story of Amelia Earhart; Adele de Leeuw (? 1955)
  -- 20 Hours, 40 Minutes: Our Flight in the Friendship; Amelia Earhart (Putnam's Sons 1928)
  -- Winged Legend, The Story of Amelia Earhart; John Burke (Putnam 1970)


Born at Davenport IA 1886. Died October 11, 1911.

Raised on the family farm, Eugene Ely graduated from Iowa State University with a strong interest in things mechanical. He learned early on to drive an automobile and initially became a chauffeur, then one of the first racing car drivers in America. In 1909 he moved to San Francisco to sell cars, married Mabel Hall, and the two bought a home in Portland OR.

There he met auto dealer Harry Wemme, who had a newfound interest in aviation, and who had just bought a Curtiss in preparation for becoming the Northwest's first airplane dealer. Wemme had no knowledge of flight and was reluctant to teach himself to fly, so with no pilots available to help, Ely offered his hand, assuming flying couldn't be all that more difficult than racing cars. He learned otherwise on his first try when the Curtiss became briefly airborne before crashing. As apology for his accident, Ely bought the remains and repaired the pusher, becoming familiar with its workings, and finally did teach himself to fly in early 1910.

In performing exhibition flights around Portland, he realized he could earn more money than by selling cars, so he and his wife headed north to Canada for a flying tour, ending up in Minneapolis, where he met Glenn Curtiss at an aviation meet. Curtiss was impressed with Ely's abilities and convinced him to become a member of his exhibition team scheduled for a tour of the Great Lakes and Eastern cities. In Chicago in early October, Ely received his Aero Club of America pilot's license, number 17, to become one of the aeronautical elite.

Attracted by an $25,000 prize offered jointly by the New York Times and Chicago Post for the first person to fly between the two cities, Ely tried, but gave up after making barely 30 miles in two days—his old pusher just wasn't rugged enough for cross-county flying. However, he did meet Capt Washington Chambers, the USN's first designated Director of Aviation, in Belmont Park, who spoke of his interest in having aerial service to and from ships at sea. He said he did not have enough in his budget to pay Ely to try, but could provide a ship. When Ely agreed, Chambers arranged for the cruiser USS Birmingham to have a wooden platform built on its deck at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

However, it became a race against the clock when New York newspaper articles told of the Hamburg-American Line planning the same attempt, to be flown by J A D McCurdy on November 5, 1910 as their liner, Kaiserine Auguste Victoria, left New York Harbor. Chambers spurred his yard workers to a greater effort, and Ely headed for Norfolk by train with the celebrated Curtiss Hudson Flyer, but their clock was running out. Although McCurdy and his airplane were aboard Victoria when it left port, weather turned foul and he was unable to fly. His plane was offloaded so that the liner could remain on its schedule, but Hamburg-American workers were already outfitting another ship, Amerika, scheduled to sail November 12, while Navy Yarders were still struggling with technical problems.

Fortune smiled again for Ely as misfortune beset McCurdy. His fragile plane was damaged in lading onto Amerika, and the ship sailed off, leaving a frustrated McCurdy and his broken machine on the dock. Finally, Birmingham's 80' by 24' wooden deck was finished and the Hudson Flyer brought aboard by crane. The gloomy Monday morning of November 14 saw an entrourage of Navy officials and Norfolk onlookers awaiting the big show, but weather appeared to be deteriorating. With about an hour of light left, at 3:00 pm, clouds lifted enough to see the target, Willoughby Spit, so Ely cranked up his motor. At 3:17, a restraining line was cut, and the plane trundled down the gently sloping deck. Barely gaining necessary speed, Ely broke free from the deck, briefly sank low enough to shatter his propeller tips on the waves, then flew to the spit with the entire plane vibrating badly and made a credible landing on the sandy beach. The observers were elated, and Commodore John Ryan even gave Ely $500 to pay for his propeller! The feat not only demonstrated the practicality of aviation in Navy service, but it put Ely on the front pages.

He continued with the Curtiss exhibition team through the South and Midwest, arriving at Curtiss' San Diego camp in December for a Christmas break. Capt Chambers had arranged for a similar, larger deck to be built on the cruiser USS Pennsylvania at Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco. Across this 119' by 31' deck were strung 22 manila lines three feet apart with 50-lb sandbags tied to each ends. These were propped up to about one foot as a prehistoric arresting gear. At San Diego, Ely and Curtiss rigged three pairs of steel hooks on an extended skid to snag those lines.

By train, Ely and his airplane moved to Tanforan Racetrack below San Francisco in early January 1911, and Pennsylvania anchored in place on the Bay at dawn on January 18. With two other cruisers floating nearby as viewing stands for onlookers, Ely left Tanforan that morning and flew the 10 miles to his "aircraft carrier," making a straight-in approach from 1,500' with a tailwind of about 15 mph. Flying at 40 mph, he missed the first 11 arresting lines, but caught the rest to make the first landing on a ship at 11:01 am. Then, turning his plane around while a deck crew cleared away the lines, he took off at 11:58 and flew back to Tanforan.

He continued his tour of the nation during 1911, then with star billing. At the Georgia State Fairgrounds in Macon, October 11, Ely was flying his routine when something went wrong. He was seen fighting to maintain control while diving from several hundred feet, but the plane crashed near the grandstand. At 25, in a notable flying career lasting only 18 months, Ely died of a broken neck when he was thrown from his seat. More tragically, the crowd was unruly and rushed to the wreckage to strip souvenirs from the airplane, as well as pieces of clothing from his body. (— K O Eckland)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1965.