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Amelia Earhart – more than "just a sack of potatoes"

On June 18, 1928, Amelia Earhart, became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. However, Earhart did not pilot the plane but was, as she explained, “just a sack of potatoes”.

Amelia Earhart hadn’t dreamed of becoming a famous pilot. Originally, she set her sights on training as a physician. She entered Columbia University in the pre-med program in 1919 but dropped out after her first year to move to California.

Soon, she was taking flying lessons at an airfield in Long Beach and, literally, had her heads in the clouds in a bright yellow-colored plane she affectionally called, “The Canary”. By 1922, the daring aviator had set the women’s altitude record by flying at 14,000 feet.

Not content with earning a pilot’s license, Earhart trained as a stunt pilot and soon was soon thrilling audiences at air shows including at the Glendale Airport in suburban Los Angeles.

Although flying planes and performing heart-stopping stunts was exciting – it also was an expensive hobby and when the money ran out, Amelia had to sell her plane and she moved back to the east coast.

The move proved advantageous, however, as it was there that the 30 year old Earhart joined pilot Bill Stultz and his co-pilot and mechanic, Louis Gordon, as a passenger on a perilous flight across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Wales in a Fokker F7.

Upon the trio’s return to America, they were cheered at a ticker-tape parade in New York City before being received at a reception at the White House as American heroes.

The publicity was ginned up by promoter, book publisher and publicist, George P. Putnam, who realized the star power of a the young female aviatrix. Putnam become Earhart’s manager/publicist and later the two wed.

As America’s most famous woman aviator, Earhart always reached for new challenges and within two years of being the “sack of potatoes” passenger, she again crossed the Atlantic – this time as a pilot and was the first woman to make that solo flight.

To learn more about the extraordinary accomplishments of female heroines, visit our Women of the West gallery in the Grace Dee May Museum Virtual Tour.

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