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From Little Falls to Paris: the life of Charles A. Lindbergh

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Colonel Charles Augustus Lindbergh, c.1928.

Charles A. Lindbergh, a native of Little Falls, became a world-famous aviator after completing the first nonstop, solo transatlantic flight in May 1927.

Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1902. He grew up outside Little Falls on a 110-acre farm on the banks of the Mississippi River. Though they never divorced, Lindbergh’s parents, Charles August (C. A.) and Evangeline, were estranged. After the complete loss of their home to fire in 1905, they lived in separate homes.

The Lindberghs built a smaller home on the original’s foundation. It became a summer residence for Lindbergh and his mother, who traveled to Washington, D.C., each winter for ten years following C. A. Lindbergh’s election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Charles Lindbergh attended college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in fall 1920. After three semesters, he was dropped from the program and enrolled at the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation’s flying school. He spent time on the barnstorming circuit before purchasing his first plane, a Curtiss JN4-D, commonly called a “Jenny.”

In 1924, Lindbergh enrolled in Army Flying School, where he graduated at the top of his class. Following graduation, Lindbergh went to Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri. There, he accepted a job with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation as chief pilot for the soon-to-be-awarded St. Louis–Chicago airmail route.

In 1919, a French businessman, Raymond Orteig, offered a $25,000 prize to the first team to fly nonstop between New York, New York, and Paris, France. After learning of the prize, Lindbergh began to plan a flight to Paris. Lindbergh discussed his idea with St. Louis businessmen and aviation supporters who pooled their resources to provide Lindbergh with the funding to purchase an airplane that could make the trans-Atlantic flight.

Ryan Aeronautical Company in San Diego, California, built the Spirit of St. Louis—a single-engine monoplane powered by a Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine—for $10,580. Lindbergh worked alongside the designer and the construction crew.

By the time Lindbergh was ready for his flight, six well-known aviators had already lost their lives in pursuit of the Orteig Prize. Undaunted, Lindbergh set out to break the record on May 20, 1927. At 7:52 a.m., after loading the plane with 450 gallons of gasoline, Lindbergh climbed into the cockpit and gave the go ahead to takeoff. Thirty-three and one-half hours later, he landed at Le Bourget Field, just outside of Paris.

Upon returning home, Lindbergh continued to promote aviation by touring the United States, Central and South America. When he was in Mexico he met Anne Morrow, the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador. They married in 1929.

Tragedy struck the Lindberghs in March 1932 when their first-born son, twenty-month-old Charlie, was kidnapped from the family home in New Jersey. The child’s body was found two months after he was taken. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested for the crime in 1934 and convicted the following year.

In 1936, an American military attaché invited Lindbergh to Germany to help gather intelligence about the Third Reich. At a dinner in Berlin, German Air Minister Hermann Göring surprised Lindbergh with an award for his services to aviation. Many saw Lindbergh’s acceptance of the “Nazi medal” as a sign of his sympathies with the Third Reich, and he was vilified in the American press.

Lindbergh remained convinced that Germany would win any coming war based on its superior military strength and returned to the United States in 1941. He made speeches on behalf of the America First Committee, a nationwide organization that opposed American intervention in the war. The press and many members of the public accused Lindbergh of injecting anti-Semitism into his argument for neutrality, a claim that he denied.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh did what he could to help the Allies. In 1944, Lindbergh persuaded United Aircraft to designate him a technical representative in the South Pacific to study aircraft performances under combat conditions. Despite being a civilian, Lindbergh participated in fifty combat missions and was credited with at least one kill.

Following World War II, Lindbergh served on the board of directors for Pan American Airways and developed a passion for protecting the environment. He wrote “The Spirit of St. Louis,” which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for autobiography in 1954. He died in Hawaii on August 26, 1974.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 04/12/2016 - 11:29 am.

    Little Falls

    I was just reading yesterday that the Lindbergh house in Little Falls is getting a new roof. If you pop up there to check out the museum, don’t miss a couple of Lindbergh cars they have sitting in the garage. One is an old VW that he drove around in the ’60s and ’70s. The other is a Model T that he and his dad drove across country. Charles had some concerns that is was the same car and may have been replaced by a similar model, so when he visited the house he crawled under the car to check on a bolt he and his dad had put in to make a repair while on the road.

    That bolt was still there, so he gave the vehicle a thumbs up.

  2. Submitted by Maria Jette on 04/12/2016 - 12:24 pm.

    And then there was the bigamy…

    …and those THREE other families in Germany. I’m surprised that didn’t merit a line or two in this little bio.I just looked at the MNOpedia article via the link here, and see it’s mentioned in the timeline sidebar, circa 2003:

    “Dyrk, Astrid, and David Hesshaimer break their silence about their mother’s secret relationship with Charles Lindbergh. The Hesshaimers are three of the seven children Lindbergh fathered during his affairs with three German women beginning in the 1950s.”

    Just a little afterthought, apparently!

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/12/2016 - 06:15 pm.

      Hmmmm . . . . .

      I guess he really DID love the Germans . . . . . . . .

    • Submitted by Lizzie Ehrenhalt on 04/19/2016 - 11:00 am.

      Re: Hesshaimers

      Hi Maria,

      I edited the version of the Lindbergh article that appeared in MNopedia. I regret that the fixed layout of our article page pushed the chronology point about the Hesshaimers past the rest of the text, which did make it appear, visually, to have been an afterthought. I agree that it’s a crucial part of Lindbergh’s life. Because our biographical articles can’t be longer than 700 words, we often have to make hard decisions about what to cut from the body text and what to save for the chronology. In this case, mentioning Lindbergh’s public German connections, medal from Göring, and initial World War II isolationism took first priority.

      I appreciate your comment and your interest in the article.

      Lizzie Ehrenhalt
      Editor, MNopedia

  3. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 04/12/2016 - 08:44 pm.

    There has been at least one article earlier in the MinnPost

    about Lindbergh that did not hide some of the problems in his life that make casting him as a saint rather difficult.

    See: Good riddance, Mr. Lindbergh
    By Susan Gray | 07/15/09

    Link: https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2009/07/good-riddance-mr-lindbergh

    As one of his daughters, Astrid, put it:

    “People may wonder about his treatment of his wife and my mother, but the fact that we exist testifies to the fact that he was simply a man – not a hero.”

    From: Aviator Lindbergh ‘fathered children by three mistresses’
    link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1491010/Aviator-Lindbergh-fathered-children-by-three-mistresses.html

    Of course heroism is difficult to define. Was Jefferson not a hero but simply a man? He, too, apparently sired a not completely determined number of children, possibly up to six, with Sally Hemings, who was the half-sister of his wife Martha.

    Life and heroes are complicated.

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