Amelia Earhart is one of America’s most famous pilots. A record-setting aviator, she was the second person to cross the Atlantic solo and nonstop, the first person to cross the United States solo and nonstop, and much more. She tragically disappeared as she tried to travel around the world.
Earhart’s life, although tragically cut short, had many layers. In addition to feats accomplished on an airplane, Earhart has made an impact in fields ranging from fashion to flying a gyroplane. Here are five things you might not know about the famous American pilot.
1. She also piloted the autogyro
In 1930, after only 15 minutes of instruction, Earhart became the first woman to fly an autogyro, made by Pitcairn and fitted with rotating blades to increase lift and allow for short takeoffs and landings. Earhart set the first gyroplane altitude record and completed two gyroplane cross-country laps, which were marked by three public accidents. Although Earhart was the most famous female pilot, she was not necessarily the most skilled.
2. First female vice-president of the National Aeronautic Association
Earhart became the first female vice president of the National Aeronautic Association, which authorized official records and races. She persuaded the organization to set separate women’s records because the women didn’t have the money or the planes – and therefore the experience – to fairly compete with the men for “world” titles.
3. Politically frank
Earhart lobbied Congress for aviation legislation. She also lobbied for birth control rights, supported women in politics and business, and endorsed the project for men, women and even the elderly to promote equality and peace.
4. Entrepreneur and fashion designer
Earhart designed a line of “functional” women’s clothing, comprising dresses, blouses, pants, suits and hats, initially using her own sewing machine, dress, and seamstress. She modeled her own designs for promotional broadcasts.
Earhart also designed a line of lightweight, canvas-covered plywood luggage sold by Orenstein Trunk of Newark, New Jersey. Earhart luggage was sold in the 1990s.
5. University professor
In 1935 Earhart became a visiting professor at Purdue University at the invitation of Purdue President Edward Elliott, an advocate for higher education for women, particularly in engineering and science. Earhart, a former pre-med student, has served as a women’s counselor and lecturer in aviation. Elliott was also interested in supporting Earhart’s piloting career and convinced Purdue benefactors to purchase a Lockheed 10-E Electra twin-engine aircraft for her.
This content was migrated from an earlier online exhibit, Women in Aviation and Space History, which shared the stories of women on display at the Museum in the early 2000s.