Amelia Earhart Biography: A Record Setting Pilot



Amelia Earhart
In 1937 Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous women on the planet. For the last decade she had been upending
stereotypes, smashing records and establishing herself as an international role model. As she set off for her greatest adventure,
around the world excursion, the whole world was watching. Then, suddenly, she was gone – disappeared. In this week’s Biographics we delve into
the marvellous and mysterious life and death of Amelia Earhart. Beginnings
Amelia Earhart was born on July 24th, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. She was the older of two daughters to Edwin
and Amy, with sister Muriel being two years younger. Edwin Stanton Earhart was a talented lawyer
who worked for the railways, but his career was blighted by an addiction to alcohol. Amelia was named after her maternal grandmother
Millie Otis. Millie and Amelia’s grandfather, Alfred,
actually took the girl in and she lived with them during the school year in Atchison from
the ages of 3 to 11. During the holidays she went to live with
her parents in Kansas City. Amelia attended a private college preparatory
school until she was ready for high school. Becoming an avid reader, young Amelia spent
many long hours devouring books of every sort. Even though she spent most of the year away
from him, she adored his witty and well educated and imaginative father. Edwin would entertain the girls and their
friends with Western thrillers complete with bandits, Indians, cowboys and other made up
characters. Amelia marvelled over his command of the English
language. On one occasion he addressed her in a letter
as ‘Dear Parallelepipedon,’ and she rushed to find a dictionary to discover the new word’s
meaning. Despite his brilliance as a wordsmith, Edwin
was not so lucky when it came to financial matters. As a railroad lawyer he never really applied
himself, preferring rather to spend his time coming up with inventions that would make
his fortune. In 1903 he designed a device to hold signal
flags on the ends of trains. Full of enthusiasm he travelled to Washington
DC to file his plans with the patent office. After two frustrating days, he wrote back
to Amelia’s mother that ‘a man from Colorado had filed a patent on an identical holder
two years ago . . . this news is a terrible blow because I had been counting on receiving
several hundred dollars from the railroad for my flag holder.’ Worse still the money that Edwin had been
counting on was earmarked to pay the family’s property taxes. In order to pay the tax bill, he had to sell
a collection of valuable law books that he had been given by his father-in-law, Judge
Otis. The judge was furious that his son-in-law
had done these things. A year later when Edwin took his wife and
two girls for a week-long trip to the World’s Fair in St. Louis, the Judge considered the
trip an extravagant waste of money and further proof of Edwin’s spendthrift habits. Despite her grandfather’s reservations,
Amelia loved the trip, as she enthusiastically rushed with her sister around the fifteen
hundred buildings and twelve palaces – all lit by the still relatively new phenomenon
of electricity. In her autobiography For the Fun of it, published
in 1932, Amelia pin-pointed three important threads that attracted her to aviation: an
interest in mechanics, the many railroad trips she took with her father and her love of experimentation
with sport and games. As a railroad claims agent, Edwin was able
to take his family on trips all over the country. Her travels developed in Amelia a deep-seated
desire to see more and more of the world at large. When she wasn’t travelling, Amelia spent
hours sitting with her cousins, Lucy and Kathryn Challis, looking over maps of faraway places
and dreaming of overseas excursions. From the beginning, the future aviatrix was
a daredevil who acted as if she was immune to danger. She was attracted to every type of sport,
but she chafed under the societal stereotypes of the day, which limited girls to reading,
sewing and cooking. She was lucky in that she had parents who
encouraged her tastes for boy’s pursuits and allowed her and her sister to dress in
dark blue flannel bloomers gathered up at the knees for play, rather than the customary
dresses and pinafores. At school, Amelia, who was known as ‘Millie’,
earned good grades, but seemed to be too impatient to worry about the details of her academic
work. She would quite easily solve math problems
in her head but couldn’t be bothered writing down her working out. This lack of attention to detail was a trait
that stayed with Amelia into adulthood. It was at the Iowa State Fair in 1907 that
Amelia saw her first aeroplane. She recalled it as a thing of rust and wire
that didn’t interest her at all. She wasn’t alone. At the time neither automobiles nor airplanes
were predicted to become functional means of transportation. In 1908, Amelia stopped living with her grandparents
in Atchison and moved with her parents to Des Moines, Iowa. There she entered public school. She did well academically, despite problems
at home. Her parents argued constantly, mainly over
money, and the constant quarrelling drove her beloved father to the bottle. This was at a time when states across America
were increasingly becoming ‘dry.’ Public displays of drunkenness were a source
of great humiliation. As a result, the pitiful public inebriation
of Edwin Stanton Earhart soon became the talk of the town. Hardship
The heavy drinking eventually led to Edwin losing his job at the railway. For over a year he remained out of work, finally
securing a menial clerking job. It required that the family move to St. Paul. Minnesota. The departure from Iowa was a depressing one
for the girls, but especially for their long-suffering mother. As they boarded the railroad car to St. Paul,
she shed tears of frustration. Life was tough in St. Paul, with the family
barely making ends meet. Edwin’s drinking was still not under control. On one occasion, Amelia found a bottle of
whiskey in her father’s suitcase and proceeded to empty it into the kitchen sink. An infuriated Edwin tried to slap the girl,
but Amy stopped him. The constant moves her family undertook during
her teen years left Amelia feeling rootless and insecure. But, rather than discussing her problems,
she instead focused on her ambitions. The family only stayed in St. Paul for a year. With a job awaiting Edwin in the claims office
of the Burlington Railway, they relocated to Springfield, Missouri. The move was a disaster. After a seven-hour train journey the family
discovered that the job had already been taken. For Amy this was the final straw. She demanded a trial separation and took the
two girls to Chicago to stay with old family friends. In Chicago, Amelia shouldered responsibility
for her mother and sister as head of the household. Her behaviour and appearance changed dramatically. Although she attended Hyde Park, the best
public high school in Chicago, she did not participate in any of the numerous clubs the
school offered, nor did she play in any of the sports teams she so loved. She now referred to herself as A.E. and isolated
herself from her fellow students. She refused to attend the senior banquet and
graduation ceremony. Her senior yearbook photo caption read, ‘The
girl in brown who walks alone.’ By the fall of 1915, things had improved in
the Earhart marriage. Edwin had stopped drinking and the family
had reunited in Kansas City. For the next year, Amelia did not attend school,
but spent her time acting as a buffer between her parents and acting to preserve the marriage. The family fortunes took an immediate upturn
when Amie received an inheritance. She used some of the funds to send Amelia
to the Ogontz finishing school on the outskirts of Philadelphia. It was there that Amelia polished her social
graces, which would allow her to move with ease and poise among all segments of society
after she became famous. At nineteen, she was the oldest of Ogontz
students when she entered in the fall of 1916. While she was at Ogontz, Amelia’s feminist
proclivities came to the fore. She kept a newspaper clipping file of accomplished
women, many of them firsts in their field. But she was no suffragette. Next to one clipping she wrote . . . ‘Women
will gain economic justice by proving themselves in all lines of endeavor, not by having laws
passed for them.’ Over the first semester Christmas break, Amelia
returned home. While there she witnessed the ravages of the
First World War; returned soldiers on the street with missing limbs, blinded and otherwise
maimed. She returned to Ogontz but felt conflicted. She wrote to her mother, ‘I can’t bear
the thought of going back to school and being so useless.’ Amelia decided to quit the school and enrolled
in a course to join a Voluntary Aid Detachment, a group of civilians who served as assistant
nurses, ambulance drivers and nurses. After several months of training, Sister Amelia,
as she was known, was posted to Spadinia Military Hospital, on the campus of the University
of Toronto. Working there until just before the armistice
in 1918, she cared for soldiers who had been poisoned by gas and otherwise injured in the
trenches of the Western Front. She also looked after pilots from the Royal
Flying Corps Canada who had crashed in Europe. It was while tending to these injured pilots
that Amelia became fascinated with the idea of flying. The men would trade stories about their exploits
high above the ground. Nearby was the Royal Flying Corps base and
the skies were filled with hundreds of planes buzzing around. Civilians were not allowed to fly in the planes
but on her days off, Amelia spent time with the pilots attended aerial exhibitions. The hospital job was intensely demanding,
with Amelia often working 12-hour shifts. She becam so worn down that, in the summer
of 1918, she came down with influenza and pneumonia and developed painful sinusitis. As a result, she suffered from chronic sinus
infections throughout the rest of her life. After a period of convalescence with her mother,
Amelia enrolled at Columbia University studying zoology, biology and chemistry. She rented a modest apartment in New York
City. At the end of the spring term, she quit her
studies. She would later claim that she had simply
decided against a medical career. The reality was that she lacked the temperament
to wade through years of tertiary study. Spending the next year with her parents in
Los Angeles, Amelia put her focus on helping them keep their marriage intact. Over the course of that year, the now 22-year
old Amelia would take her first paying job, drive her first car and fly her first lane. First Flight
Los Angeles in 1920 was a haven for pilots. It was full of barnstormers, pilots who stunted
in air circuses and gave rides to often terrified passengers. In December, 1920 Amelia and her father went
to an air rodeo in Long Beach, where pilots performed spins, loops and dives amid a crowd
of spectators. The next day Edwin paid ten dollars to give
his daughter her first passenger flight, a ten-minute ride over the Hollywood Hills. The moment the plane left the ground she knew
that she herself had to fly. She had found her calling. Without informing her parents, Amelia signed
up for flying lessons, with the expectation that Edwin would cover the $500 fee. But her father had no interest in his daughter’s
new-found obsession and she was forced to find a job as a telephone clerk in order to
fund the lessons. She chose to be instructed by a female pilot,
Anita ‘Neta’ Snook. After ten hours of lessons, Amelia went solo
in 1921. The exhilarating experience encouraged her
on to achieving her full pilot’s licence. Over the next few months, as she progressed
in her lessons, Amelia became an airfield junkie. She cropped her long hair and began wearing
breeches, boots and an oil stained leather jacket. Despite complaining about the high cost of
lessons, she managed to scrape together the money needed to buy her first plane (thanks
largely to her mother’s inheritance), an Airster with a 28-foot wingspan. It was just the second ever Airster ever built. She named the plane Canary. During these early years, Amelia didn’t
consider herself a good enough flyer to appear in public flying events. Burt her humility didn’t preclude a few
appearances at air shows and two attempts at record setting in the LA area. The press was also mentioning her as one of
the few women pilots in the area. By 1923 she had turned into a confident pilot,
though she was not a natural flyer and had struggled throughout her instruction. Many men, and even some women, were better
pilots than Amelia – but her persistence and bravery set her apart. In 1924, Amelia’s parents’ marriage finally
ended in divorce. A devastated Amelia saw no reason to stay
in California and she relocated to Boston, along with her mother and sister. The following year she re-enrolled at Columbia,
switching to a major in engineering, but when she scored a C- in Algebra she once again
quit her studies. She then applied for admittance to MIT but
was turned down. A World Record
Over the next few years, Amelia worked at a number of menial jobs. Eventually she ended up as a social worker
at a settlement house in Boston. In 1928, her 3-year hiatus from flying ended
when she agreed to take a set as a passenger and log keeper on a flight from New York to
London. The plane was a Fokker F.VII- 3-meter floatplane
piloted by Wilmer Stultz. The floatplane took off on the morning of
June 17and arrived at Bury Point in South Wales nearly 21 hours later. Despite her role being a minimal one. Amelia was now in the books as the first woman
to fly the North Atlantic. Returning to the USA, Amelia developed a close
relationship with George Putnam, a New York businessman and former publisher. They had met when she had interviewed for
a place on the Fokker. Putnam helped her to improve her flying skills
and to embark on a series of lecture tours intended to promote the aircraft industry
and encourage women to become pilots. Over the next few months she also wrote her
first autobiography, 20 hr 40 min, about her flight across the North Atlantic. On November 22nd, 1929, Amelia set a woman’s
speed record for a single engine monoplane. The following year she purchased a Lockheed
Vega Executive and, in it, she broke the speed record for a course of 100 km. Amelia and George Putnam were married on 7th
February, 1931. Over the next year, she set and broke several
altitude records. On 20th May 1932, she took off from New Foundland
in her Vega, touching down in a field of cows in Londonderry, Ireland fifteen hours and
thirty minutes later. She had just become the first woman to fly
solo across the North Atlantic. Fame
With her husband’s flair for publicity she quickly became the most famous woman flyer
on the planet. Putnam billed his wife as ‘Lady Lindy’,
capitalizing on the massive popularity of Charles Lindbergh. Amelia was now a fully-fledged celebrity. When she made public appearances, she needed
police protection. She branched out by designing a range of clothing
that copied her look. In January, 1935, Amelia became the first
woman to fly from Hawaii to California. In that year she also wrote her second biography,
The Fun of It, while continuing a hectic schedule of lecture tours and public appearances. The Final Challenge
On July 20, 1935, Amelia celebrated her 38th birthday. She knew that she couldn’t go on breaking
records forever. Yet she still had one more big one to knock
off – in fact, the biggest of them all; a flight around the world. To achieve a round the world flight, Amelia
would need a bigger plane. In early 1936, she purchased a twin-engine
Lockheed 10-E Electra, a plane which was the product of the finest technology available
at the time. It was a low wing monoplane of all-metal construction
with constant-speed propellers powered by two Pratt and Whitney Wasp S3H14 550 horsepower
engines. The interior of the plane was modified to
take extra petrol tanks, giving a theoretical range of 4,000 miles at an altitude of 4,000
feet. The plane was also fitted with one of the
very first Sperry automatic pilots in order to relieve the physical strain of flying on
Amelia. Despite this innovation, it became apparent
that Amelia would need navigational assistance to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Her navigational knowledge was rudimentary
and so Irish born navigator Fred Noonan was recruited for the world record attempt. Noonan was keen to be involved but there was
one aspect of the navigational set up that he wasn’t happy with. The only way the navigator could reach the
pilot was by crawling along a catwalk over the intervening fuel tanks. A sample system was devised whereby written
messages could be clipped to the line of a bamboo fishing pole and passed between them. But this inadequate method impaired the crucial
element of teamwork. The Final Flight
The planned route for the round the world flight began in Oakland, California with the
first landing place at Honolulu, Hawaii. From there, it continued in a westerly direction,
taking advantage of prevailing winds. In order to maximise publicity, Putman required
his wife to keep a detailed diary and post them to him from each stop. He would edit them so that he could rush out
a book as soon she had achieved the record. The first leg of the round the world flight
took off from Oakland at 1630 on 17th March, 1937. The flight to Honolulu was smooth and uneventful,
taking 15 hours and 47 minutes. The next stop was to be the tiny American
territory of Howland Island, 1,800 miles away. Immediately things went wrong – the plane
swung to the right just after take-off, then ground looping as the under carriage collapsed. Fortunately, Amelia managed to land without
any injury or fire. But the world record attempt had to be put
on hold as the plane was crated and sent back to Lockheed for rebuilding. The rebuilding was completed on May 17. Efforts were made to reduce the weight of
the plane, one of which undoubtedly contributed to the tragedy to come. The trailing aerial which allowed them to
request bearings on 500 kHz from ground stations was removed. Three days after the rebuilt Elektra was delivered
to them, Amelia and Noonan took off from Oakland for the second time. Because if seasonal changes, it was decided
that this new attempt would be done in the reverse direction. The first leg was to Miami and then on to
Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Dutch Guinea. In early June they flew to Fortaleza in Brazil. The following days were sent servicing the
engines and checking the instruments. The 1,900-mile flight across the south Atlantic
was made on 7th June, landing in Dakar, Senegal. The journey across Africa lasted four days. It was followed by the longest leg of 1950
km to Karachi, India. There the plane was serviced by Imperial Airways
along with members of the British RAF. On June 17th, they flew on to Dum-Dum near
Calcutta, landing in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. After refuelling at Bangkok, they flew on
to Singapore. From there it was on to Bandoeng in Java. Here the Electra developed some kind of instrument
fault. On the flight to Surabaya in East Java the
problem recurred, forcing them back to Bandoeng where there were repair facilities. On June 29th, they flew to Lae in New Guinea. The 1,200-mile flight was completed in 7 hours
and 43 minutes. So far, Amelia and Noon had travelled 22,000
miles. They must have been mightily exhausted; yet
the greatest challenge still lay before them – the crossing of the Pacific. Disappeared
The next objective was Howland Island, some 2,566 miles away. The two spent June 30th in preparation for
the mammoth flight. Several witnesses later reported that Noonan
was drinking heavily on this day and was still doing so into the evening as Amelia attended
a dinner party. They took off at 10am on July 2nd. Eyewitnesses reported that the Electra lifted
off sluggishly, sank downwards toward the sea and then began a very slow climb to the
east. No one has ever seen them since. The last known position of the Electra was
near the Nukumanu Islands. The last radio message from Amelia was . . .
We must be on you, but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet. What Happened? The official search effort to find the missing
plane and its famous occupant lasted until July 19th 1937. The air and sea search by the US Navy and
Coast Guard was the most expensive in US history. Yet no physical evidence of the plane or the
remains of Amelia and Noonan were found. Over the decades the speculation over what
happened to Amelia Earhart has intensified. In 2017, a photo emerged that purported to
show a back view of Amelia sitting on a pier in the Marshall Islands. However, this photo was debunked when it was
proven that it was actually taken in 1935, two years before Amelia disappeared. Then, in March, 2018 an anthropology professor
at the University of Tennessee named Richard Jantz argued that bones found on the island
of Nikumaroro in 1940 were 99% likely to be those of Amelia Earhart. The bones were analysed in 1941 and determined
to be those of a male. But Jantz believes that that analysis was
deeply flawed. Yet other scientists uphold the original findings. While we may never know what really happened
to Amelia, it appears quite certain that the tantalizing mystery of her disappearance will
keep her name in the headlines for many years to come.

36 thoughts on “Amelia Earhart Biography: A Record Setting Pilot

  1. I remember having to have it explained to me why you must write out how you solve math problems and why. It never occurred to me to write it down, because I didn't solve the problem that way. It's not necessarily a lack of attention to detail, it's just that it feels like a pointless waste of time.

  2. And with that I just realized why you cannot do a video on Abe Lincoln. You would have to admit he was a self avowed racist, political opportunist, talk about how he made his career screwing over landowners for railroad companies and tried to get all African Americans shipped back to Africa.

  3. Hey he’s like Abraham Lincoln, who made his living screwing over land owners and native Americans for the rich railroad tycoons, he was so good at it they decided to get him in to policy making for them. That’s right, he was a gigantic jackass, and a racist

  4. Got to love YouTube, it’s advertisement of choice for this video was one for a vacation package to the Amelia Islands…

  5. Frankly, she was an overrated, under qualified pilot in retrospect, being exploited and promoted by her wealthy tycoon husband George Putnam, well known as a promoter and publisher… She paid the ultimate price. Without Putnam's support she would have been just an average woman pilot in a day when women were discriminated against. something but not noteworthy.

  6. She sounds like a very unremarkable person who took full advantage of her privilege. All of her records and accomplishments had already been achieved by others.
    The aviation industry wanted to show that flying was so safe that even a woman could do it.

  7. My thumbs up for interesting facts I had not heard before is cancelled by the visuals. There is a definite imbalance featuring the talking historian compared to the footage of the historical figure. This channel would do well to take a page from the documentary playbook: If it isn't your personal story, your role is to remain behind the camera. Nudge yourself in that direction.

  8. you would think if she wanted a plane in the 1930s she would of gone to Britain or Germany,as they were far ahead at this time in most sectors including aviation

  9. 6:00 I've never seen a locomotive like that, with the little cabin in front. Anyone know more about those?

  10. In this video, the name "Spadina House" is correctly pronounced. While the major street Spadina Avenue is pronounced "Spad-eye-na" (rhymes with China), the building, which is said to be haunted, is pronounced "Spa-DEE-na", rhyming with "Tina". The name is derived from the Ojibway word ishpadinaa, and means "sudden rise in the land". Light Rail transit trains now circle the building.

  11. Too bad the real history of Emilia is not told. That she was a hero who was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned on Saipan for 7 years. Then executed when the US Marines landed in WW11 to hide the evidence. 200 people saw her on Saipan. American Military personnel saw her journal and plane. Where are women writers defending her honor?

  12. A suggestion. Beryl Markham was a contemporary of Amelia Earhart's and lived quite an interesting life. She'd be a great subject for this series.

  13. Amelia was my 6th cousin, I found out via Ancestry.com. it's pretty awesome, we share a relative, James "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny" Otis.

  14. WOW Amilia’s dad is an idiot you this is why I don’t drink alcohol and never plan to be your life well be a complete joke and you well be known as a bombling fool

  15. Simon, perhaps a video on Brigham Young? Or Joseph Smith the Latter-day Saint prophet? Cheers to your great work!!

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