Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974), American aviator, made the historic first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Charles A. Lindbergh was born on February 4, 1902, in Detroit, Michigan. His father was a congressman from Minnesota (1907-1917). After attending schools in Little Falls, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., Lindbergh enrolled in a mechanical engineering program at the University of Wisconsin. He left to study flying in Lincoln, Nebraska (1920-1922). He made his first solo flight in 1923 and thereafter made exhibition flights and short hops in the Midwest. He enrolled in the U.S. Air Service Reserve as a cadet in 1924 and graduated the next year. In 1926 he made his first flight as an airmail pilot between Chicago and St. Louis.
Lindbergh wanted to compete for the $25, 000 prize that Raymond Orteig had posted for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. With financial backing from St. Louis businessmen, Lindbergh had the Spirit of St. Louis built. On the first lap of his flight to New York, he traveled nonstop to St. Louis in 14 hours and 25 minutes—record-breaking time from the West Coast.
On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off in his silverwinged monoplane from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, bound for Le Bourget Airport outside Paris. Better-equipped and better-known aviators had failed; some had even crashed to their death. But Lindbergh succeeded. He arrived on May 21, having traveled 2, 610 miles in 33 1/2 hours. He was immediately acclaimed a hero and received numerous honors and decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Chevalier Legion of Honor, the Royal Air Cross (British), and the Order of Leopold (Belgium). During a 75-city American tour sponsored by the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation for the Promotion of Aeronautics, he was greeted by wild demonstrations.
In December 1927 Lindbergh flew nonstop between Washington and Mexico City and went on a goodwill trip to the Caribbean and Central America. During one tour he met Anne Spencer Morrow, the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and married her in 1929. The Lindberghs made many flights together. In 1931 they flew to Asia, mapping air routes to China, and two years later in a 30, 000-mile flight they explored possible trans-oceanic air routes.
In March 1932 tragedy struck the Lindbergh family when their infant son was kidnapped. A $50, 000 ransom was paid, but the baby was found dead. The nation's concern and horror resulted in legislation expanding the role of Federal government law-enforcement agencies in dealing with such crimes, specifically empowering the government to demand the death penalty for kidnapers taking victims across state lines. After the execution of the convicted murderer in 1935, the Lindberghs moved to Europe. While in France, Lindbergh worked with Alexis Carrel, an American surgeon and experimental biologist who in 1912 had won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. The two men perfected an "artificial heart and lungs, " a perfusion pump to keep organs alive outside the body by supplying blood and air to them.
In the late 1930s Lindbergh conducted various air-power surveys in Europe. He toured German aviation centers at the invitation of Nazi leader Hermann Göring and became convinced of Nazi military invincibility. Also in the 1930s he was on the Board of Directors of Pan-American World Airways. In 1939 he surveyed American airplane production as special adviser on technical matters. He performed noteworthy promotional work for aviation during this period.
Just prior to World War II, as a member of the America First Organization, Lindbergh warned that United States involvement could not prevent a German victory. He was criticized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for radio broadcasts urging America to refrain from fighting in "other people's wars." As a result, Lindbergh resigned his commission in the U.S. Air Force. After the Japanese attack in 1941, he supported the American effort, serving as a civilian technician for aircraft companies in several theaters of war. After the war he once again became a technical adviser for the U.S. Air Force and eventually was recommissioned a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.
The great aviator's Nazi sympathies severely damaged his reputation in the public eye. But the popularity of his and his wife's books helped restore some of the esteem he had lost due to his infatuation with Hitler. Lindbergh wrote several accounts of his epic-making 1927 flight. We (1927) and The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for biography, are interesting and modest summaries of his early life and accomplishments. With Carrel he coauthored Culture of Organs (1938), and in 1948 he wrote Of Flight and Life His later works included The Wartime Journals of Charles A, Lindbergh (1970) and Boyhood on the Upper Mississippi: A Reminiscent Letter (1972). An Autobiography of Values (1977) was published posthumously. Toward the end of his life he grew increasingly interested in the spiritual realm. He also spoke out on environmental issues. He spent his final years with his wife in a house they had built on a remote portion of the island of Maui. He died there on August 26, 1974.
After her husband's death, Anne Morrow Lindbergh continued to publish books of her diaries and letters. She retired to Darien, Connecticut, where a series of strokes sapped her of her faculties. In 1992, she was the victim of an embezzlement scam devised by a woman whom her children had hired to manage her adily affairs. The state of Connecticut joined with the Lindbergh children in pressing charges against the perpetrator.
The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh was published in 1970. An early account of Lindbergh is George B. Fife, Lindbergh: The Lone Eagle (1927). Kenneth S. Davis, The Hero: Charles A. Lindbergh and the American Dream (1959), is informative and provocative and also excellent for Lindbergh's association with the America First Organization. Walter S. Ross, The Last Hero: Charles A. Lindbergh (1968), is a well-documented book, especially informative about the mysterious postkidnaping period of Lindbergh's life in the 1930s. A comprehensive biography, published soon after the famed aviator's death, is Leonard Mosley, Lindbergh: A Biography (1976). A more recent study of the famed aviator is Walter L. Hixson, Charles A. Lindbergh: Lone Eagle (1996). □