Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas to parents Samuel Edwin Stanton Earhart and Amelia Amy Otis Earhart on July 24, 1897. Earhart was named after her two grandmothers, a family custom. At an early age, it was obvious that Earhart and her sister, Grace Muriel Earhart, were the adventurous type. Day in and day out, Amelia and her sister would set out for hours on end to explore their neighborhood. This included everything from hunting rats to climbing trees. While these activities were usually associated with that of young boys, Earhart never had an issue taking part as well.
At the age of 10, Earhart’s father was transferred to a new job in Des Moines, Iowa. Shortly after the move, she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. At the time, Earhart did not have any interest in flying and referred to the plane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.”
While her parents were getting settled in Des Moines, Earhart stayed behind in Atchison to continue her education. At the time, she was being home schooled along with her sister. Upon moving to Iowa in 1909, Earhart enrolled in a public school. It is well documented that during this time she would spend hours on end reading in the family library.
In 1915, Earhart once again moved; this time to St. Paul, Minnesota. Shortly thereafter, she ended up moving to Chicago. In an attempt to find the school with the best science program, she spent a lot of time researching institutions in the area. Soon enough, she settled on Hyde Park High School. Earhart graduated in 1916.
Despite changing schools on several occasions, Earhart graduated on time and with excellent grades.
Early Flying Career
On December 28, 1920, Earhart got her first taste of life in the sky. She and her father visited an airfield, and soon enough she was preparing for her first flight with professional pilot Frank Hawks. Earhart said, "By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.” After this short flight, she became obsessed with aviation and vowed to make this her career as soon as possible.
One month after her first flight, Earhart had saved enough money to take flying lessons. Despite the hard work that went into learning how to fly an early plane, Earhart pushed forward with dogged perseverance. Six months after taking flight for the first time, she managed to purchase her first airplane. Although used, the Kinner Airster biplane is just what she needed to get her career moving in the right direction. Thanks to its bright yellow color, Earhart nicknamed the plane “Canary.”
On May 15, 1923, Earhart became only the 16th woman to be issued a pilot’s license by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
By 1927, Earhart had logged more than 500 hours in the sky without any serious incident or harm. At the time, this was quite the achievement. In fact, it led to the Boston Globe referring to her as one of the best women pilots in the United States.
In April of 1928, Earhart took advantage of a big offer. She received a phone call from publicist Capt. Hilton H. Railey asking if she would like to fly the Atlantic. After meeting with project coordinators, she was asked to join two other pilots, Louis E. Gordon and Wilmer Stultz, on the mission.
On June 17, 1928, the three pilots departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland. Flying in a Fokker F7, the three pilots navigated their way 21 hours to Burry Port, Wales. This flight was a huge accomplishment for the aviation industry, and made headlines the world over. Upon returning to the United States, the pilots were greeted with a parade in New York as well as a reception at the White House held by President Calvin Coolidge.
After taking part in this record breaking event, Earhart decided to devote her entire life to flying. By this point she had shown the world that women were more than capable of flying, and with this came a lot of respect and future opportunities.
After years of being courted, Earhart finally decided to marry George Putnam. Earhart was previously engaged to Samuel Chapman, but during that period she was also spending a lot of time with Putnam. After a bit of hesitation, the two wed on February 7, 1931. Although the two never had children of their own, Putnam did have two sons from a previous marriage.
Continued Flying Career
On May 20, 1932, Earhart took off for a solo flight from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland. Although the initial plan was to end the trip in Paris, strong winds forced Earhart to abandon the flight in Culmore, Ireland. Although Earhart did not land at her intended target, the flight gained worldwide attention due in large part that she was the first woman to fly non-stop across the Atlantic without a co-pilot. This feat led to a gold medal from the National Geographic Society, as well as a Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress; the first one given to a woman.
In 1937, Earhart prepared for a challenge that would outdo all previous accomplishments. She decided it was time to become the first woman to fly around the world. During the first attempt at this feat, she was joined onboard by Fred Noonan, the second navigator, Harry Manning, and Paul Mantz. Unfortunately, the group did not make it far due to technical issues after a scheduled landing in Hawaii.
In true Earhart fashion, a second attempt was immediately planned out. The first leg of the trip was from Oakland, California to Miami, Florida. At this time, Earhart publicly announced her intentions. This time around, Earhart and her only other crew member, Noonan, would be flying the other way around the world due to changes in wind and weather patterns.
After leaving Miami, the pair stopped in South America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. They eventually would up in Lea, New Guinea. At this time, 22,000 miles of the trip were complete, with only 7,000 more to go.
On July 2, 1937, the pair took off from Lea in route to Howland Island. However, their last known position was somewhere near the Nukumanu Islands, 800 miles into the flight. The US Coast Guard had assigned the Itasca to station near Howland to guide Earhart to the island once she moved into the area.
Although the exact details are not well known, the final approach to the island was never made. Some feel that Earhart was not skilled at using her Bendix direction finding loop antenna, new technology at the time, and others believe that she had not properly timed the arrival with the US Coast Guard.
The last transmission that Earhart made took place at 8:43 am. She said, "We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.” Instead, she returned a few minutes later on the same frequency and spoke her last known words, “We are running on line north and south.”
A rescue attempt was made, and at the time, it was the most intense search in naval history. On July 19, after spending more than $4 million, the United States government called off the search.
Once the official search was called off, Earhart’s husband sponsored a search by local authorities of nearby islands and waters, focusing mainly on the Gilberts. In late July he also chartered two small boats and directed a search of the Phoenix Islands, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and Fanning Island. Unfortunately, no trace of Earhart or her plane was located.
Although Amelia Earhart’s life was cut short, she is one of the most well known pilots that the world has ever seen.