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May 21, 1927: Lucky Lindy Flies His Way Into the Celebrity Ranks

•, By Tony Long

Lindbergh was a mail pilot in the Midwest when he got wind of the Orteig prize, a $25,000 purse being offered by a New York hotelier to the first pilot to make a nonstop flight between New York and Paris. He persuaded a group of St. Louis businessmen to finance the construction of a plane, which he christened Spirit of St. Louis.

He was not the only pilot to make the attempt and, in fact, was a relative unknown in a field that included former World War I aces and noted barnstormers. Several pilots were killed or injured before Lindbergh went aloft.

He tested his aircraft on May 10 and 11, flying from San Diego to New York with an overnight stop in St. Louis. That flight took 20 hours and 21 minutes.

With Spirit of St. Louis stripped to the essentials but carrying extra fuel, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field outside of New York City on the morning of May 20. Thirty-three hours later he touched down at Le Bourget, instantly becoming the most famous aviator on earth.
At first he basked in his celebrity, and toured the country promoting the general aviation industry. But all the publicity – Lindbergh was perhaps the second-most popular figure in America after Babe Ruth – began to intrude on someone who was basically shy and private.

The murder of his first-born child brought more unwanted publicity and then Lindbergh, who, prior to Pearl Harbor opposed America’s entry into the Second World War, made some ill-advised speeches that essentially accused the Jews (and the British) of trying to drag the country into war with Germany. He would spend the rest of his life living down those remarks.

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