A young blond child wears an astronaut costume.  The child has taken their helmet off and is smiling.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart and her Flying Career
Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous American pilots. A record setting aviator, she was the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic and the first woman to fly solo and nonstop across the United States, among other accomplishments. Her flying feats spurred her into the international spotlight, where she lectured widely, wrote several books, and advocated for causes she cared about.

She tragically went missing while attempting to fly around the world.

Five Things You May Not Know About Amelia Earhart

Early Life

Born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart displayed an independent style from childhood, including keeping a scrapbook on accomplished women, taking an auto repair course, and attending college (but never graduating).

“As soon as I left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly.”

Earhart attended her first flying exhibition in 1918 while serving as a Red Cross nurse's aide in Toronto, Canada. She took her first flight in California in December 1920, with veteran flyer Frank Hawks.

Her first instructor was Anita "Neta" Snook who gave her lessons in a Curtiss Jenny. To pay for flight lessons, Earhart worked as a telephone company clerk and photographer. Earhart soloed in 1921 and bought her first airplane, a Kinner Airster. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to receive an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot license.

Record Setting

Amelia Earhart began setting records before she officially earned her pilots license when she set the feminine altitude record of 4,267 meters (14,000 feet) in 1922.

Her record-breaking feats of skill and endurance demonstrated her courage as a pilot, and also made her an international sensation. Learn more about some of these feats below.  

Supporting Women Pilots

In August of 1929, she placed third in the All-Women's Air Derby, behind Louise Thaden and Gladys O'Donnell, which was the first transcontinental air race for women (from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio) and a race she helped organize. This race, closely followed by the press and by the public who flocked to the stops along the way, proved that women could fly in rugged and competitive conditions.

A few months after the Derby, a group of women pilots decided to form an organization for social, recruitment, and business purposes. Ninety-nine women, out of 285 licensed U.S. female pilots, became charter members, inspiring the organization's name The Ninety-Nines (99s); Earhart became their first president. Female pilots were keenly aware of the lack of social and economic independence for all women and were determined to help one another.

Listen to Podcast

Her Plane

Amelia Earhart Lockheed Vega 5B aircraft

Amelia Earhart set two of her many aviation records in this bright red Lockheed 5B Vega. In 1932 she flew it alone across the Atlantic Ocean, then flew it nonstop across the United States—both firsts for a woman. Amelia Earhart bought this 5B Vega in 1930 and called it her "Little Red Bus."

Go Inside the Cockpit

View Object Record

Celebrity and Entrepreneur 

The dramatic 1928 transatlantic passenger flight brought Earhart international attention and the opportunity to earn a living in aviation. George Putnam became her manager and she began lecturing and writing on aviation around the country.

She tirelessly lectured across the country on the subjects of aviation and women's issues and wrote for Cosmopolitan and various other magazines. She also wrote books about her flights and career 20 Hours and 40 Minutes, The Fun of It, and Last Flight, which was published after her disappearance.

Earhart designed a line of "functional" women's clothing, including dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats, initially using her own sewing machine, dress form, and seamstress. She modeled her own designs for promotional spreads. Earhart also designed a line of lightweight, canvas-covered plywood luggage sold by Orenstein Trunk of Newark, New Jersey. Earhart luggage was sold into the 1990s.

Learn More

Her Final Flight

Earhart decided to make a world flight and she planned a route as close to the equator as possible, which meant flying several long overwater legs to islands in the Pacific Ocean.

On March 20, 1937, Earhart crashed on takeoff at Luke Field, Honolulu, Hawaii, ending her westbound world flight that had begun at Oakland, California. The Electra was returned to Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, for extensive repairs.

On June 1, 1937, Earhart began an eastbound round-the-world flight from Oakland, via Miami, Florida, in the Electra with Fred Noonan as her navigator. They reached Lae, New Guinea on June 29, having flown 35,405 kilometers (22,000 miles) with 11,265 kilometers (7,000 miles) more to go to Oakland. They then departed Lae on July 2 for the 4,113-kilometer (2,556-mile) flight to their next refueling stop, Howland Island, a three-kilometer (two-mile) long and less-than-a-mile wide dot in the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, Earhart and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, anchored off shore of Howland, could not complete any direct two-way radio communication and neither Earhart nor Noonan were competent at Morse code. However, the Itasca did receive several strong voice transmissions from Earhart as she approached the area, the last at 8:43 am stating: "We are on the line of position 156-137. Will repeat message. We will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait. Listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south."

Earhart and Noonan never found Howland and they were declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937 following a massive sea and air search.

Her Disappearance

Earhart's disappearance spawned countless theories involving radio problems, poor communication, navigation or pilot skills, other landing sites, spy missions and imprisonment, and even living quietly in New Jersey or on a rubber plantation in the Philippines.

Earhart's disappearance remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century, and it often overshadows her true legacy as a courageous and dedicated aviator and as an enduring inspiration to women.

Learn More

In the Collection