In 1924, Lindbergh entered a U.S. Army flying school at San Antonio, Texas. He finally was able to see the benefits of studying in achieving his goals. His hard work and dedication paid off when he graduated first in his class the following year. In 1926 he became the first air mail pilot between Chicago, Illinois, and St, Louis, Missouri. While in St. Louis and looking for another challenge, he convinced a group of businessmen to back him in an attempt to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize which had been offered since 1919, by New York hotel businessman Raymond Orteig, for the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris.
Lindbergh helped design the monoplane, built by Ryan Airlines, Inc. of San Diego, in which he would make his solo attempt. The plane was named the Spirit of St. Louis.
On his way to New York, Lindbergh established a record for flight time between San Diego and St. Louis of 1,500 miles in 14 hours and 25 minutes. Then, after a stopover, he continued to New York, establishing another record for transcontinental flight time.
On May 20, 1927 at 7:52 a.m., Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island for Paris, carrying five sandwiches, water, maps and charts, and a limited number of other items he deemed absolutely necessary. He decided against carrying a parachute and radio in favor of more gasoline. In his single-engine monoplane, he was an unlikely candidate to succeed in the transatlantic flight as other contenders opted for multi-engine planes and at least one other crew member aboard. He fought fog, icing and drowsiness (he hadn’t been able to sleep the night before taking off) during the historic trip.
On May 21, 33 1/2 hours later, (10:22 p.m. French time) Lindbergh set the Spirit of St. Louis down at Le Bourget Field near Paris. He had flown over 3,600 miles and became the first to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic.
Overnight, Lindbergh became an international hero. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the first-ever Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. government, and received high honors from many other countries. He was summoned home to the United States by President Coolidge and returned with theSpirit of St. Louis aboard the navy cruiser U.S.S. Memphis on June 10. After the initial accolades for his accomplishment, Lindbergh made an 82-city U.S. tour in the Spirit of St. Louis to promote the commercialization of aviation, providing Americans throughout the country with the opportunity to express their admiration. Late in 1927, Lindbergh flew to a number of Latin American countries as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. government. While in Mexico, he met Anne Spencer Morrow, daughter of the American ambassador. The two were married on May 27, 1929 at the Morrow estate in New Jersey. Constantly pursued by the press, the couple could only find privacy in the air. In 1930 Charles taught Anne to fly. She became the first woman in America to earn a glider pilot’s license and later that year she earned her pilot’s licence. During the next few years, Anne was not only his wife, but his co-pilot, radio operator and navigator. Partners in aviation, adventure and life, Charles and Anne flew to five continents, charting routes for commercial air travel, many of which are still in use today.
Tragedy struck the Lindberghs in 1932 when their first child, Charles, Jr., was kidnapped. Greatly distressed by the loss of their child and the sensational publicity it was given, they sought privacy in England and, later, France. Charles and Anne had five more children, Jon, Land, Anne, Scott, and Reeve. It was in France that Lindbergh and noted French surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel continued the work they had begun earlier on an “artificial heart” — a perfusion pump to keep organs alive outside the body by providing them with necessary blood and air. By 1935 Lindbergh and Carrel had perfected the perfusion pump. Their invention paved the way for surgeons to perform organ transplants and open heart surgery. Lindbergh’s success in designing the perfusion pump demonstrates the breadth of his interests and mechanical aptitude, and led to his philosophy that the survival and progress of mankind depends on a balance between technological advancement and preservation of both the natural and human environment.
During the 1930s, Lindbergh also inspected the status of aviation in European countries. His reports as an intelligence agent of the U.S. government warned of Germany’s air power and he is credited with alerting the U.S. to the need for strengthening its air capability. At this point, however, Lindbergh did not favor the voluntary entry of the U.S. into the European war. As a member of the America First organization, he campaigned for non-involvement. Criticisms of his position led to his resigning his commission in the Army Air Corps Reserve.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh went to work with Henry Ford on bomber production, and also served as a technical adviser and test pilot for United Aircraft (now United Technologies). Early in the war, he carried out high-altitude and lowered-body temperature experiments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in preparation for wartime service as a high-altitude test pilot. Later, as a civilian adviser in the Pacific theatre, he developed means to conserve fuel and increase the range of fighter planes, thus saving many lives, and actually flew 50 combat missions. In 1954, Lindbergh was re-commissioned in the Air Force Reserve and appointed a brigadier general by President Eisenhower.
Throughout much of his life, Lindbergh was involved in commercial and military aviation. He also championed the early rocket research of Robert Goddard, securing support for his experiments from the Guggenheim family. Lindbergh also chaired the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was a predecessor to NASA.
A prolific writer, Lindbergh authored seven books during his lifetime. His final book, Autobiography of Values, was published posthumously. He is best known for the 1954 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Spirit of St. Louis.
Lindbergh’s roots in the Upper Mississippi country of northern Minnesota led to an abiding interest in the preservation of the environment. His own name, “Lindbergh,” is Swedish for linden tree and mountain. Although he gave up public speaking in the 1940s, Lindbergh’s concern for the preservation of the environment became greater than his desire for privacy. In the early 1960s, he began working to help primitive Philippine and African tribes, campaigned to protect endangered species like humpback and blue whales, and supported the establishment of a national park. His speeches and writings later in life emphasized his love of technology and nature, and a lifelong belief that “all the achievements of mankind have value only to the extent that they preserve and improve the quality of life.”
Lindbergh died August 26, 1974, at his home on the island of Maui, Hawaii.