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Charles Lindbergh: before the Spirit of St. Louis


Charles Augustus Lindbergh, 1927

If you don’t know who Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974) is, then the first you should know is why he’s famous…or was famous. You may have only heard his last name, Lindbergh, in connection to something to do with aviation or perhaps the Lindbergh baby, the kidnapping of Charles’ son, Jr. Whatever the case may be, you should at least know that on May 21st, at 10:21 p.m., 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh became the first person to cross the Atlantic from New York City, to Paris, France nonstop. Not only did Lindbergh cross the Atlantic, but he was the first to do so solo. From his biography, “Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field, near New York City, at 7:52 A.M. He landed at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, on May 21 at 10:21 P.M. Paris time (5:21 P.M. New York time). Thousands of cheering people had gathered to meet him. He had flown more than 3,600 miles (5,790 kilometers) in 33 1/2 hours. Lindbergh’s heroic flight thrilled people throughout the world. He was honored with awards, celebrations, and parades. President Calvin Coolidge gave Lindbergh the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross.”

Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis.

Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis.

The reason why all this was a big deal is because after WWI, aviation had been romanticized. Pilots lived considerable short lifespans and folks all over adored their heroic feats. But even after the war and tales of aerial dogfights dwindled, aviation was still vague and new, especially in America, despite being its birthplace. Consider that during the spring of 1927, there were no commercial flights, only stunt performers and Barnstormers. Charles Augustus Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis changed everything. By late summer 1927, Lindbergh was on tour “throughout the United States to encourage air-mindedness on behalf of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.” So, if you didn’t know who Charles Lindbergh was, you should at least know about his legendary flight. And though his name isn’t often uttered in public conversations anymore, he was an important piece in the fabric of our collective memory. But Lindbergh, just like most people in history, did not start out as an international superstar. Lindbergh had rather humble beginnings, some of which have fallen into obscurity. Here are a few worth consideration:

  • Charles Augustus Lindbergh…had only been flying solo for about four years before his famous transatlantic flight.
  • Lindbergh is not his original family name, his grandfather changed it to Lindbergh from Månsson in 1859 after fleeing Sweden under “dubious” circumstances. Something to do with an affair with a mistress and an illegitimate son, Lindbergh’s father, and a financial scandal. Månsson left his wife and four children when he came to America with his new wife/mistress and son. 
  • Charles had an unimpressionable childhood. After his flight, reporters flooded his hometown in Little Falls, Minnesota looking for anecdotes about his boyhood, yet none of his past school mates could think of any.
  • Charles went to school with Theodore Roosevelt’s sons.
  • He flunked out of University of Wisconsin…
  • …only to excel as an aviator.
  • Lindbergh had a short career as a stunt performer, wing walker, Barnstormer. He stopped after a failed attempt at taking off from Main Street in Camp Wood, Texas…in which he spun his plane through the front window of a hardware store.
  • He was known as a cruel practical joker.
  • After only serving one year in the Army Air Reserve, Lindbergh emerged with the rank of Captain.
  • Charles Augustus Lindbergh was only 25 when he became the first person to ever cross the Atlantic nonstop.
Bill Bryson, “One Summer: America, 1927.” Random House, New York, 2013.

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