Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas; the daughter of a railroad attorney, she spent her childhood in various towns, including Atchison and Kansas City, Kansas and Des Moines, Iowa.
“Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke … but enjoys an occasional game of poker. … Dances anywhere a band plays. Says there’s a saying among aviators: ‘Show me how well you dance and I’ll tell you how well you can fly.’” (Keir)
“(Flying) may not be all plain sailing … But the fun of it is worth the price.” (Putnam, The Fun Of It)
When she was 10, she saw her first plane at a state fair … she was not impressed. “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting.”
It wasn’t until she attended a stunt-flying exhibition, almost a decade later, that she became seriously interested in aviation. A pilot spotted her and her friend, who were watching from an isolated clearing, and dove at them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper.’” She stood her ground.
Something inside her awakened as the plane swooped by. “I did not understand it at the time,” she said, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life.
“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground,” she said, “I knew I had to fly.” (California Museum) Learning to fly in California, she took up aviation as a hobby, taking odd jobs to pay for her flying lessons.
In 1922, with the financial help of her sister, Muriel, and her mother, Amy Otis Earhart, she purchased her first airplane. She was the 16th woman to earn her pilot license, receiving it on May 15, 1923.
In 1929, she and a group of other women pilots (a total of 99) formed the Ninety-Nines; she served at its first president. Later, she met and married (February 7, 1931) George Palmer Putnam, a publisher and promoter.
She flew for ‘fun.’ She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932,) the first woman to fly solo, nonstop, across the US from Los Angeles to Newark (1932,) and the first person to fly solo between Los Angeles and Mexico City and between Mexico City and Newark (1935.)
She came to Hawaiʻi twice (December 27, 1934 to January 11, 1935 (to make the Hawaiʻi to the continent) and March 17 through March 20, 1937 (as part of the first plan to fly around-the-world.))
“Over the Christmas holiday (1934,) Amelia Earhart and George Putnam, along with Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mantz, arrived in Honolulu on December 27, having sailed on the Matson liner SS Lurline. Amelia’s Lockheed Vega was secured on the ocean liner’s deck. The group spent two weeks vacationing in Hawaiʻi.” She visited Hilo and planted a banyan tree on “Hilo Walk of Fame.”
Five days after planting the banyan tree, she took off from Wheeler Field, Oʻahu and after 18-hours and 15-minutes, Amelia and “Old Bessie, the Fire Horse,” made a perfect landing at Oakland Airport at 1:31, January 12, 1935, she was engulfed by a cheering crowd of 5,000-enthusiastic supporters.
It was another record flight for Amelia – the very first person, man or woman, to fly solo between Hawaiʻi and the American continent and the first civilian airplane to carry a two-way radio. (Plymate)
A commemorative plaque to honor her trans-pacific solo flight was put up on Diamond Head Road. Documents of that flight were placed in a copper box and inserted into the plaque’s base on March 6. It was dedicated on March 14, 1937.
The last Hawaiʻi visit was part of her planned flight around-the-world. She assembled a team to make an around-the-world flight (navigators Fred Noonan and Captain Harry Manning, as well as technical advisor/assistant navigator Paul Mantz.) It wouldn’t be the first around-the world flight, but it would be the longest, taking an equatorial route.
They set out from Oakland on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17, 1937) and headed for Hawaiʻi on the first leg of their journey. After 15-hours and 47-minutes they landed at Wheeler Field. (From there they would travel on to Howland Island in the South Pacific, and then on to Australia.) The plane was moved to Luke Field for take-off on the next leg.
At 5:53 am, March 20, 1937, she began the take-off roll; suddenly, at the 1,000-foot mark the right tire blew (ten seconds more and the plane would have been airborne.)
The right landing gear broke and the right wing and other parts of the plane were badly damaged (no one was hurt.) Within 6-hours after the aborted take-off, she was heading for San Francisco via ship. The plane had to be shipped back to California for repairs and the round the world trip was rescheduled.
She set out on her second attempt in June, this time with only Noonan to assist her effort. They set again from Oakland, this time flying from west to east, across the continental US to Miami, Florida.
They then flew toward Central and South America before finally turning east and crossed Africa and southern and southeastern Asia before setting down in Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937.
Necessary repairs and adjustments were made and the plane was refueled for the big trek across the Pacific to tiny Howland Island – the destination Earhart was attempting to reach on her first around-the-world attempt.
On July 1, she made her way from Lae, New Guinea for Howland Island. A radio report was received from her plane that she was over the ocean with no land in sight, with about one-half hour’s fuel left on board. (hawaii-gov)
They never reached Howland Island; they disappeared July 2, 1937.
Despite an extensive coordinated search carried out by the Navy and Coast Guard with 66-aircraft and 9-ships they were not found. (On January 5, 1939 Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead, in Superior Court in Los Angeles, California.)
In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory, and across the United States, streets, schools, and airports are named after Earhart. Her birthplace, Atchison, Kansas, became a virtual shrine to her memory.
The search for clues to Earhart’s disappearance continued. It was recently reported on Discovery that a fragment of her lost plane (a patch that replaced a navigational window in her modified plane) has been identified to a high degree of certainty.
New research strongly suggests that a piece of aluminum aircraft debris recovered in 1991 from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, does belong to Earhart’s plane. (The rivet pattern and other features on the 19-inch-wide by 23-inch-long fragment matched the patch and lined up with the structural components of the plane.)
The breakthrough suggests that, contrary to what was generally believed, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not crash in the Pacific Ocean, running out of fuel somewhere near their target destination of Howland Island.
Instead, they may have made a forced landing on Nikumaroro’ smooth, flat coral reef. The two became castaways and eventually died on the atoll, which is some 350 miles southeast of Howland Island. Further research is on-going. (Lots of information here is from hawaii-gov, Soylent and Amelia Earhart Museum.)