Charles Lindbergh Profile

Charles Lindbergh was one of the first Americans to feel the effects of mass media fame. His prowess as a pioneering aviator, combined with his good looks, captivated the U.S. public's imagination in the wake of his solo Atlantic crossing of 1927. But Lindbergh's fame brought with it tragedy and controversy, too.



Born in 1902, Charles Augustus Lindbergh was brought up in Little Falls, Minnesota, the son of a lawyer and congressman. He had a natural aptitude for mechanics but dropped out of an engineering degree to become a "barnstormer" - a pilot who performed daring stunts at air fairs. By 1925, he was working for the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, St Louis, as the pilot of a mail pane. In 1919, Hotelier Raymond Orteig offered 25,000 dollars to the first pilot to make a solo, non-stop flight from New York to Paris. The challenge had already cost the lives of several pilots but Lindbergh was convinced he could accomplish the feat, as long as he had the right plane.


Lindbergh persuaded a syndicate of St Louis financiers to put up the 6,000 dollars needed to build a special version of the sturdy Ryan M-1 mail plane. Named the Spirit of St Louis, the plane was fitted with huge fuel tank in front of the cockpit. The only way the pilot could see forward was through a periscope. All extraneous weight was stripped out, including several flying instruments. It was an enormous gamble but it worked. Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, New York, at 0752 on May 20, 1927, tired from a long test flight but hopeful that favourable weather conditions would help his cause. Thirty-three hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds later he landed at Le Bourget Field, Paris. He was greeted as a hero by thousands of cheering well-wishers.


President Calvin Coolidge ordered the U.S. Navy to bring Lindbergh home to a ticker tape parade. After that, the Guggenheim Foundation sponsored Lindbergh on a 75-city tour of the United States, promoting air travel to an ecstatic American public. In 1929, the Lindbergh legend burned even brighter when Lindbergh married Anne Morrow, the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Anne learned to fly and, together, the couple travelled all over the world, surveying international routes for airline companies. They were America's golden couple. Everyone wanted a piece of the Lindberghs.


On March 1, 1932, while the Lindberghs were at the height of their fame, Charles Augustus Jr., the couple's 20-month-old son, was kidnapped. Lindbergh paid a ransom of 50,000 dollars but Charles was not returned. On May 12, the child's body was found in woodland less than five miles from Lindbergh's New Jersey home. After more than two years of investigations, police arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German carpenter, and charged him with extortion and murder. He was convicted and sent to the electric chair. Devastated by the loss of their son and eager to escape the frenzied attentions of the media, the Lindberghs left America and settled in Europe.


In 1936, Lindbergh inspected Nazi Germany's military aviation programme on behalf of the U.S. government. More visits to Germany followed and Lindbergh received a medal from Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering. As the threat of war intensified, Lindbergh joined the America First movement, which urged U.S. neutrality. His position quickly became unpopular with the American public and accusations of anti-Semitism followed after a speech in which he said American Jews were among those agitating for war. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lindbergh tried to enlist but was refused. Eventually, he persuaded the authorities to appoint him as a civilian adviser to the air force fighting in the Pacific. Once he received his posting, Lindbergh wore down his local commanders and flew around 50 combat missions. After the war, he kept a far lower profile, emerging in the late 1960s to campaign on conservation issues. He died in 1974.