Amelia Earhart was — and still is — one of America’s most beloved public figures. In fact, she’s a worldwide inspiration. Not only did she pioneer aviation, but she did it at a time when a woman’s place was considered to be in the home and not in the skies.
The icon met a tragic end when her plane disappeared in 1937. To this day, no one is sure what happened to Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Let’s take a look at the life of one of the most important historical figures to ever exist, from her record-breaking feats to her marriage to author George Putnam.
Earhart Broke Many Records
Amelia Earhart is famous for a reason. She broke many records flying herself, but was also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in an aircraft, too. Four years later in 1932, she took the first solo flight across the ocean, but she didn’t stop there.
That same year, she ventured out to fly from one American coast to another. She didn’t just break records for women, but did things that men had never done before, either. She was the first person in history to fly alone from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Amelia was a real trailblazer.
Another Woman Taught Her To Fly
Aviation certainly seemed like a man’s game back in the early 1900s. In fact, it’s still a male-dominated industry. Although it’s easy to assume that Amelia must’ve been taught how to fly by a man, this wasn’t the case at all. Another pioneering female showed her the ropes.
Neta Snook was the first female to run her own aviation company. She charged Earhart $1 in Liberty Bonds for every minute in the air, making it a pricey course to take. Earhart first got into a plane in 1920 at Snook’s Long Beach base. It was a simple moment, but it changed her life.
She Wasn’t Keen On Flying At First
It’s difficult to imagine it now, but Amelia Earhart really wasn’t a big fan of flying at first. When she first saw a plane, she recalled thinking that it was simply “a thing of rusty wire and wood.” Back in 1908, this was probably the case, but little did Amelia know that her name would become synonymous with flight.
It wasn’t until she started working as a nurse’s aide in Toronto that she started to realize she liked flying after all. This was only because she and her friends had little to do but socialize at local flying fields.
She Wasn’t Always A Frequent Flyer
Before Amelia discovered her love of flying, she was just like the rest of society. She had to work in order to make money, so held several roles prior to her aviation career taking off. Not only was she a nurse’s aide, she was a social worker, too. When she became well-known for her aerial exploits, she was able to supplement her income in other ways.
Earhart gave speeches, wrote articles, and even took up a position at Purdue University’s Department of Aeronautics. There, she spoke to people hoping to break into the industry and offered up career advice. After all, there was no one better qualified.
Amelia’s Mom Was Just As Impressive
Strong women breed strong women! Amelia may have been a woman vastly ahead of her time, but so was her mother. She had a good example to follow. Amy Earhart always had an adventurous spirit. Before she got married and started having children, Amy was the first woman to climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.
When Amelia became interested in flying, Amy supported her daughter’s newfound obsession. She even used some of her inheritance money to help finance the purchase of Amelia’s first plane.
She Wasn’t An Academic
Given how many accomplishments Earhart had under her belt she was obviously intelligent, but Amelia never really liked school all that much. She studied pre-med at Columbia but soon learned it wasn’t for her.
Some years later in 1925, she tried to get her degree again but ended up throwing in the towel. Amelia gave it one last shot by enrolling in summer classes at Harvard, but gave it all up for good when she was declined a scholarship to MIT. It just goes to show that degrees aren’t the be-all and end-all.
Amelia Was A Fashionista
As well as being a whiz in an aircraft, Amelia was well-known for being fashionable and chic. In fact, she owned one of the very first celebrity clothing lines. Eat your heart out Kim Kardashian, Amelia got there first. Her line, Amelia Earhart Fashions, was sold at Macy’s and Marshall Field’s, among other department stores.
Of course, Earhart incorporated details about flying into her clothes such as little propeller-shaped fastenings. The line included accessories like scarves and hats. Interestingly, Amelia liked to sew and made her own samples for the brand.
Eleanor Roosevelt And Amelia Were Friends
When she wasn’t up in the air living her best life, Amelia was attending events with her pals. One of her closest friends was the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she met in 1932. Roosevelt thought that Amelia was inspiring, so much so that she started training for her own pilot’s license.
Eleanor never completed the course, but it helped the two bond and they were pictured together several times. On one occasion during a dinner party, Eleanor and Amelia, adorned in all their silk finery, went for an impromptu flight to Baltimore. Amelia flew while Eleanor sat beside her and watched.
The Search For Her Was Insanely Expensive
When Amelia’s plane went missing on July 2, 1937, everyone was rightly panicked. By this time, Earhart was a national treasure and one of America’s brightest stars. For two weeks, the government poured its resources into finding Amelia, spending just over $4 million.
Even after that search ended, Amelia’s husband couldn’t give up. He spent a fortune of his own money, charting boats to continue the quest to find out what happened to his wife. Although he scoured the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, and the Gilbert Islands, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan were never found.
Some Believe The Japanese Captured Her
Officially, no one knows what happened to Earhart, or why her plane disappeared so suddenly. Journalist Mike Campbell explained one theory that gained a lot of traction in his book, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. According to Campbell, the most plausible explanation for Earhart’s disappearance is that she was captured by the Japanese.
He asserts that Earhart and Noonan were believed to be spies by the Japanese, who took them into custody and tortured them for information. When they didn’t give them anything, they were killed. While Campbell put his weight behind this theory, there are plenty more ideas about what really happened.
Her Husband Proposed Six Times Before She Relented
Earhart was clearly a woman who knew her own mind. When she first met her future husband George Putnam, she was already engaged to Samuel Chapman. For reasons unrelated to Putnam, Amelia broke off her first engagement in 1928.
By this point, George had decided that he wanted to marry Amelia and relentlessly pursued her. After five failed proposals, the sixth time was the charm and Earhart finally said yes. They married in 1931 at Putnam’s family home in Noank, Connecticut, but Amelia was reluctant right up until the very last second to sign her life away.
She Didn’t Believe In Monogamy
Most lovebirds about to be married send gifts to each other before the big day. A little gesture of love isn’t unheard of…but Amelia opted for a hand-delivered letter that expressed her disbelief in monogamy. It read:
“I want you to understand that I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. I may have to keep some place where I can go to be by myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.”
Amelia’s Friends Were A Big Deal Too
Earhart may have been a force to be reckoned with in her day, but she wasn’t the only female riding the skies. A lot of the women that Amelia surrounded herself with were also great and experienced fliers. Louise Thaden set records for women’s speed, altitude, and solo-endurance flying in 1929.
To this day, Thaden remains the only pilot to have done all three at the same time. Ruth Nichols was also a notable example of a female pioneer of the era, but Amelia was by far the most famous and well-known of her contemporaries, even though some of them were even more talented.
There’s A ’99 Percent Chance’ That The Mystery Of Her Disappearance Has Been Solved
In 1940, skeletal remains were located on a remote Pacific atoll called Nikumaroro. After being studied and analyzed, it’s been determined that the bones belonged to a Caucasian female between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 8 inches tall.
The director emeritus of the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Centre, Richard L Jantz, wrote, says that “[t]he bones are consistent with Earhart in all respects we know or can reasonably infer.” If not, they are from “someone very similar to her.”
Amelia Didn’t Always Win
Given her vast list of accomplishments, Amelia was clearly a champion. However, she didn’t always win when it came to competitive flying. In 1929, after already establishing a name for herself in the aviation world, Earhart entered the Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Women’s Air Derby.
She was in fourth place until her friend Ruth Nichols, who was one place ahead of her, had an accident. Subsequently, Earhart placed third in the heavy planes division but never became fully engrossed in the competitive racing field. Coming in third was still a huge achievement, but it wasn’t quite the thrill Amelia was looking for.
Her First Plane Wasn’t Great
When Amelia started flying, it didn’t take her long to realize that this was something she was truly passionate about. Within six months of taking her first flying lesson, she was scouting around trying to find a plane to buy. The one she settled on was a second-hand yellow Kinner Airster biplane. Earhart, with the help of her mom, bought the plane for $2,000. That’s roughly $30k in today’s money.
Earhart lovingly dubbed the plane The Canary due to its color, but her friend and mentor Neta Snook thought she made a huge mistake. She thought it was overpriced and overused.
Cosmopolitan Employed Her As Aviation Editor
It might go without saying, but Cosmopolitan magazine doesn’t need an Aviation Editor these days. It’s more about fashion and lifestyle than spending time flying a plane, but back in the 1920s and ’30s, flying was all the rage. As a result, Cosmo asked Earhart to be their Aviation editor. Amelia accepted and it was all systems go.
Over the course of their collaboration, Earhart penned 16 articles for the publication. “Shall You Let Your Daughter Fly?” and “Why Are Women Afraid to Fly?” were among them. Earhart tried hard to settle the fears of women and encourage them to take to the skies.
George Putnam Served As Amelia’s Editor
Amelia and George’s relationship eventually turned into a romantic one, but at first it was all professional and above board. George Putnam had published several works on Charles Lindbergh, who was considered Earhart’s male counterpart. Putnam was writing a book on Earhart when he began to fall for his subject.
The two worked closely together on public appearances and lectures, but Putnam was already married at the time. By 1931, he was divorced and wanted to make an honest woman out of Amelia, whom he loved and adored.
She Didn’t Have Any Children
Despite being married to Putnam for six years, Amelia was far too busy to have children and she expressed no desire to expand their family. However, she was very close to Putnam’s two children from his former marriage and particularly adored David, who frequently visited.
Just like her husband, the kids (who by this point were approaching adulthood themselves) were rightly devastated by Amelia’s disappearance and tried desperately to find her. “She and I got along good,” David later said in a rare interview. “She was the boss, of course. I did what she told me to do.”
Her Final Flight Was Meticulously Planned
One of the most confusing things about Amelia and Fred’s disappearance was the detail that went into planning their journey to Howland Island. It should’ve been infallible. The pair had many back-up plans in case something went wrong. If they went down over water, they would ditch the plane and use their raft while they awaited rescue.
Conspiracy theories abound, but the flight encountered several problems from the get-go. Witnesses who saw the plane take off believe the radio antenna was damaged, while the overcast weather conditions would’ve made navigation extremely difficult. There is also some speculation that the maps they were using were inaccurate.
Amelia’s Final Message Is Disputed
After setting off at 12:30 AM, Earhart remained in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard vessel the Itasca. Her last message came through at 8:40 AM which indicated they were around 20 miles southwest of the Nukumanu Islands.
“We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet,” said Earhart before giving coordinates an hour later. A few days later, a child in Texas was scanning the radio when she heard, “This is Amelia Earhart!” several times, along with two people arguing and finally, “The water is knee deep!” At the time, the Coast Guard dismissed it as a hoax, but the transmission later gained further credibility.