What happened this week in the History of Industry? It is to answer this question that we invite you to rediscover, every week, a historical event which occurred around this time… in another age. This week, let’s look back at a legendary feat achieved nearly a century ago by the man nicknamed “the Lone Eagle”: the first solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
AN AVIATION FANATIC
Charles Lindbergh was born on the 4th of February 1902 in Detroit into a family of Swedish immigrants who had become very well integrated, his father being a lawyer and a Congressman. An aviation enthusiast from his earliest childhood, he abandoned his mechanical engineering studies at the age of 20 to take his pilot’s license and purchase his first plane, which he repaired to offer first-time flights. He then decided to open up new horizons for himself by undergoing military training and landed a job as a US Air Mail pilot, a position in which he was to perform his historic feat.
AN ECSTATIC CROWD
On the 20th of May 1927, at just 25, he took off from New York in his plane, the Spirit of Saint Louis, which was specially equipped for the occasion. Among other adaptations, the aircraft had no windshield, to allow it to accommodate the huge tank capable of containing the 2,000 liters of fuel required for the flight. His entire provisions consisting of four sandwiches and two bars of chocolate, he had to fight to stay awake, waking up several times just as his landing gear was touching the waves. It was thus an exhausted man who, after flying for 33 hours and 30 minutes, landed in Le Bourget at 10:30 pm on Saturday the 21st of May in front of a huge crowd who had come to greet him, some of whom tore off pieces of fabric from the aircraft as a souvenir, and to whom he simply declared: "Well, I did it!"
Europe fell in love with this bright-eyed, handsome young man. Although hardly to be suspected of pro-Americanism, Paul Vaillant-Couturier wrote in the Communist daily L’Humanité: "millions and millions of people today on both sides of the ocean are going to feel closer to each other, more fraternal… And that is a revolutionary victory".
A FIRST WHICH WAS NOT REALLY A FIRST
However, contrary to popular belief, Charles Lindbergh was not the first man to fly across the Atlantic: between the 8th and the 31st of May 1919, a US Navy crew had made the journey between Jamaica Bay, near New York, and Plymouth, in a seaplane in several stages, and on the 14th and 15th of June 1919, a British crew had flown a bomber in a single flight between Newfoundland and Clifden in Ireland, in 16 hours and 12 minutes. He was, however, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic from continent to continent.
After returning to the United States, where he was greeted with the same enthusiasm, Charles Lindbergh used his fame to promote the development of commercial aviation. In March 1932, however, the kidnapping and murder of his young son, remembered in history as the "Crime of the Century" - which says a lot about his popularity at the time – put a sudden end to this fairytale. He left the United States in December 1935 to settle in Europe, where he expressed his sympathy for Hitler’s regime and ardently advocated American non-intervention in the world conflict. He changed his mind after Pearl Harbor, supported the war effort and participated in several combat missions in the Pacific.
After the armistice, now working as a consultant for the Pan Am airline company, he told the story of his famous flight in his book The Spirit of St. Louis, for which he was awarded the 1954 Pulitzer Prize. Devoting the last years of his life to protecting nature, he died on the 26th of August 1974 in Hawaii, where he had gone to retire.
"Adventure lies in each puff of wind" – Charles Lindbergh
OTHER EVENTS WHICH HAPPENED THIS WEEK:
- 17 May (1861): the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell produces the first color photograph before the members of the Royal Institution in London
- 17 May (1865): founding in Paris of the International Telegraph Union, the world’s oldest intergovernmental technical organization, created to coordinate telecommunications
- 18 May (1908): launching in Saint-Malo of the Pourquoi Pas?, Commandant Charcot’s famous polar exploration vessel
- 18 May (1990): the TGV 140 beats the rail speed record, reaching 515.3 km/h
- 20 May (1875): signing of an international treaty in Paris on the Meter Convention, establishing a world authority in the field of metrology
- 21 May (1911): the French War Minister Maurice Berteaux is killed by an the propeller of an aircraft at an air show in Issy-les-Moulineaux
- 21 May (1932): the American aviator Amelia Earhart flies across the Atlantic
- 23 May (1969): the American astronauts Stafford and Cernan fly over the Moon at an altitude of 15 km
- 23 May (1971): the SNCF’s new Aquitaine express train connects Paris to Bordeaux in 4 hours