Amelia Earhart was a pioneer, a legend, and a mystery. We've uncovered 15 things you might not know about her.
1. Earhart wasn't impressed the first time she saw an airplane.
In Last Flight, a collection of diary entries published posthumously, she recalled feeling unmoved by "a thing of rusty wire and wood" at the Iowa State Fair in 1908. Earhart found her passion for aviation years later, when she worked as a nurse's aide at Toronto's Spadina Military Hospital. She and some friends would spend time at hangars and flying fields, talking to pilots and watching aerial shows. Earhart didn't actually get on a plane herself—and then only as a passenger—until 1920.
2. She was a good student with no patience for school.
After working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Toronto, Earhart took pre-med classes at Columbia University in 1919. She made good grades, but dropped out after just a year. Earhart re-enrolled at Columbia in 1925 and left school again. She took summer classes at Harvard, but gave up higher education for good after she didn't get a scholarship to MIT.
3. Another pioneer female aviator taught Amelia Earhart to fly.
Neta Snook was the first woman to run her own aviation business and commercial airfield. She gave Earhart flying lessons at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California in 1921, reportedly charging $1 in Liberty Bonds for every minute they spent in the air.
4. Earhart bought her first plane within six months of her first flying lesson.
She named it The Canary. The used yellow Kinner Airster biplane was the second one ever built. Earhart paid $2000 for it, despite Snook's opinion that it was underpowered, overpriced, and too difficult for a beginner to land.
5. Amy Earhart encouraged her daughter's passion. Her husband Edwin Earhart, on the other hand, was afraid of flying.
Earhart's mom used some of her inheritance to pay for The Canary. She was a bit of an adventurer herself—the first woman to ever climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.
6. Earhart had a lot of odd jobs.
In addition to volunteering as a nurse's aide, she also worked early jobs as a telephone operator and tutor. Earhart was a social worker at Denison House in Boston when she was invited to fly across the Atlantic for the first time (as a passenger) in 1928. At the height of her career, Earhart spent time making speeches, writing articles, and providing career counseling at Purdue University's Department of Aeronautics. Oh, and flying around the world.
7. She wasn't sure about marriage, but she definitely believed in pre-nups.
When promoter George Putnam contacted Earhart about flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, it was her first big break ... and the beginning of their love story. The two began a working relationship, which soon turned into attraction. When Putnam's marriage to Dorothy Binney fell apart, he eventually proposed to Earhart. She reluctantly said yes.
Earhart wasn't worried about safeguarding financial assets so much as she wanted the two of them to maintain separate identities. Earhart asked Putnam to agree to a trial marriage. If they weren't happy after a year, they'd be free to go their separate ways, no hard feelings. He agreed. They lived happily until her disappearance.
8. She wrote for Cosmopolitan—and her articles weren't about pleasing a man.
Earhart was appointed the magazine's Aviation Editor in 1928. Her 16 published articles—among them "Shall You Let Your Daughter Fly?" and "Why Are Women Afraid to Fly?"—recounted her adventures and encouraged other women to fly, even if they just did so commercially. (Commercial flights date back to 1914, but they wouldn't really take off until after World War II.)
9. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was so inspired by Earhart that she signed up for flying lessons.
The two became friends in 1932. Roosevelt got a student permit and a physical examination, but never followed through with her plan. Here's a letter explaining the situation to Earhart.
10. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to get a pilot's license from the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) in 1923...
At the time, pilots and aircrafts weren't legally required to be licensed. Earhart was the sixteenth woman to get licensed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which was required to set flight records. Still, the FAI didn't maintain women's records until 1928.
11. ... the first of many firsts.
Earhart eventually became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger (1928) and then solo (1932) and non-stop from coast to coast (1932) as a pilot. She also set records, period: Earhart was the first person to ever fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, LA to Mexico City, and Mexico City to Newark, all in 1935.
What do John Glenn, George H.W. Bush, and Amelia Earhart have in common? They all earned an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. But only Earhart was the first woman—and one of few civilians—to do so.
12. Earhart was also one of the first celebrities with her own fashion line.
Amelia Earhart Fashions were affordable separates sold exclusively at Macy's and Marshall Field's. The line's dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats were made of cotton and parachute silk and featured aviation-inspired details, like propeller-shaped buttons. Earhart studied sewing as a girl and actually made her own samples.
13. The U.S. government spent $4 million searching for Amelia Earhart.
At the time, it was the most expensive air and sea search in history. Earhart's plane disappeared July 2, 1937. The official search ended a little over two weeks later on July 19. Putnam then financed a private search, chartering boats to the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands.
14. And the search isn't over.
There are a few theories about what happened to Earhart's plane during her last flight. Most people believe she ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Others believe she landed on an island and died of thirst, starvation, injury, or at the hands of Japanese soldiers in Saipan. In 1970, one man even claimed that Earhart was alive and well and living a secret life in New Jersey.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has explored the theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan lived as castaways before dying on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the western Pacific. Over the years, they've found a few potential artifacts, including evidence of campfire sites, pieces of Plexiglas, and an empty jar of the brand of freckle cream that Earhart used. From September 15, 2014 to October 15, 2014, the group will head to the atoll with two manned submersibles for its eight search expedition.
15. Now another Amelia Earhart is making history.
This summer, another pilot named Amelia Earhart took to the skies to set a world record. The 31-year-old California native is the youngest woman to fly 24,300 miles around the world in a single-engine plane. Her namesake never completed the journey, but the younger Earhart landed safely in Oakland on July 11. We think "Lady Lindy" would be proud.