Vanished Pioneer; Expedition Soon Might Solve 1937 Mystery of Amelia Earhart

With no trace of plane or flyers ever found, Earhart has been the object of a frenzy of speculation about how she died, with theories ranging from the plausible to the bizarre.


She wrote three books, wrote aviation articles for Cosmopolitan and Redbook magazines, appeared in newsreels and spoke about women's rights at Purdue University. She endorsed a line of luggage and helped design comfortable Amelia Earhart clothes that were sold at Macy's.

The Navy named a new ship after her this year. At Purdue, you can see the suede jacket she wore during her flight across the Atlantic and the small ice pick she used to open cans of tomato juice on her flights. One of her planes rests at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and her picture graces a 1964 U.S. airmail stamp.

She was so famous that Port Columbus officials arranged for her to attend the three-day dedication of the new $850,000 airport in July 1929. Earhart arrived from New York by train, and as a hard rain pelted the airport, she climbed aboard a Ford Tri-Motor for a flight to Oklahoma.

A month and a half later, when Earhart and 14 other women landed in Columbus as part of a California-to-Cleveland air race, more than 20,000 people showed up, many breaking through police lines to swarm about the airplanes.

She was just part of a wave of women who helped transform America in the 1920s and '30s, such as magazine editor Clare Boothe Luce, pilot Louise Thaden, actress Katharine Hepburn and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Frances Marion. They firmly rejected the traditional role reserved for women and aggressively pursued careers.

"She set the pace for women at a time when women had babies and stayed home," said Donald Goldstein, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of the 1999 book Amelia: A Life of the Aviation Legend.

Like Hepburn, Earhart wore slacks. Like many glamorous 1920s screen stars, she cut her hair short. She bore a slight resemblance to Charles Lindbergh, which earned her the nickname "Lady Lindy," a moniker she reportedly disliked.

She helped form the Ninety-Nines, the first women's flying organization; urged President Herbert Hoover to support an equal-rights amendment; and refused an invitation to attend the 1934 National Air Races in Cleveland because women were not allowed to compete.

She loved Putnam but married him reluctantly, having described marriage as a "cage" and "living the life of a domestic robot." On the day of their wedding in 1931, she wrote Putnam a letter promising not to hold him "to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly," concluding by asking Putnam to end the marriage in a year if they were unhappy.

With Putnam the ingenious promoter and Earhart the gifted pilot, they formed a modern marriage, almost a business partnership. Many biographies of Earhart treat Putnam harshly, suggesting he pushed her into the risky round-the-world flight.

But Earhart needed no encouragement from any man. She thrived on a challenge, and circling the globe at the Equator was the ultimate flying test. Wiley Post had twice circled the globe, but he flew the shorter and less demanding northern route over Canada, the Soviet Union and Alaska.

After a crash in March 1937 during takeoff in Hawaii aborted her first effort, Earhart and Noonan started their second attempt on June 1 in Miami. They stopped in Venezuela, Brazil, Senegal, Chad, Sudan, India, Burma and Singapore before reaching New Guinea on June 29. There, mechanics overhauled the Electra's two 550-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engines.

The flight to Howland was the most treacherous leg of the effort. Earhart would be crossing two time zones and the international date line, meaning she would both take off from New Guinea and land on Howland on July 2.

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