Hand color tinted photo of Charles Lindbergh & the Spirit of St. Louis, 1927
Charles Augustus Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974) (nicknamed “Slim,” “Lucky Lindy” and “The Lone Eagle”) was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist.
Lindbergh, then a 25-year old U.S. Air Mail pilot, emerged from virtual obscurity to almost instantaneous world fame as the result of his Orteig Prize-winning solo non-stop flight on May 20–21, 1927, from Roosevelt Field located in Garden City on New York’s Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, a distance of nearly 3,600 statute miles, in the single-seat, single-engine monoplane Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh, a U.S. Army reserve officer, was also awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his historic exploit.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Lindbergh relentlessly used his fame to help promote the rapid development of U.S. commercial aviation. In March 1932, however, his infant son, Charles, Jr., was kidnapped and murdered in what was soon dubbed the “Crime of the Century” which eventually led to the Lindbergh family fleeing the United States in December 1935 to live in Europe where they remained up until the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Before the United States formally entered World War II by declaring war on Japan on December 8, 1941, Lindbergh had been an outspoken advocate of keeping the U.S. out of the world conflict, as was his Congressman father, Charles August Lindbergh (R-MN), during World War I, and became a leader of the anti-war America First movement. Nonetheless, he supported the war effort after Pearl Harbor and flew many combat missions in the Pacific Theater of World War II as a civilian consultant, even though President Franklin D. Roosevelt had refused to reinstate his Army Air Corps colonel’s commission that he had resigned earlier in 1939.
In his later years, Lindbergh became a prolific prize-winning author, international explorer, inventor, and active environmentalist.
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 4, 1902, but spent most of his childhood in Little Falls, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.. He was the only child of Swedish emigrant Charles August Lindbergh (birth name Carl Månsson) (1859–1924), and Evangeline Lodge Land Lindbergh (1876–1954), of Detroit. The elder Lindbergh was a U.S. Congressman (R-MN 6th) from 1907 to 1917 who gained notoriety when he opposed the entry of the U.S. into World War I. Mrs. Lindbergh was a teacher at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and later at Little Falls (MN) High School from which Charles was graduated in 1918. Lindbergh also attended over a dozen other schools from Washington, D.C., to California during his childhood and teenage years (none for more than one full year) including the Force School and Sidwell Friends School while living in Washington, D.C., with his father, and Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. The Lindberghs began constantly fighting. In 1909 they decided to live apart because they deeply cared for their son.
Early aviation career
From an early age Charles Lindbergh had exhibited an interest in the mechanics of motorized transportation including his family’s Saxon Six automobile, later his Excelsior motorbike, and by the time he enrolled as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1920, he had also become fascinated with flying even though he “had never been close enough to a plane to touch it.” Lindbergh dropped out of the engineering program in February 1922, and a month later headed to Lincoln, Nebraska, to enroll as a student at the flying school operated by the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation. Arriving on April 1, 1922, he flew for the first time in his life nine days later when he took to the air as a passenger in a two-seat Lincoln-Standard “Tourabout” biplane piloted by Otto Timm.
A few days later Lindbergh took his first formal flying lesson in that same machine with instructor pilot Ira O. Biffle, although the 20-year old student pilot would never be permitted to “solo” during his time at the school because he could not afford to post a bond which the company President Ray Page, insisted upon in the event the novice flyer were to damage the school’s only trainer in the process. Thus in order to both gain some needed experience and earn money for additional instruction, Lindbergh left Lincoln in June to spend the summer and early fall barnstorming across Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana as a wing walker and parachutist with E.G. Bahl, and later H.L. Lynch. During this time he also briefly held a job as an airplane mechanic in Billings, Montana, working at the Billings Municipal Airport (later renamed Billings Logan International Airport). When winter came, however, Lindbergh returned to his father’s home in Minnesota and did not fly again for over six months.
Lindbergh’s first solo flight did not come until May 1923 at Souther Field in Americus, Georgia, a former Army flight training field to which he had come to buy a World War I surplus Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane. Even though Lindbergh had not had a lesson (or even flown) in more than half a year, he had nonetheless already secretly decided that he was ready to take to the air by himself. And so, after just half an hour of dual time with a pilot who was visiting the field to pick up another surplus JN-4, Lindbergh flew on his own for the first time in the Jenny that he had just purchased there for $500. After spending another week or so at the field to “practice” (thereby acquiring five hours of “pilot in command” time), Lindbergh took off from Americus for Montgomery, Alabama, on his first solo cross country flight, and went on to spend much of the rest of 1923 engaged in virtually nonstop barnstorming under the name of “Daredevil Lindbergh”. Unlike the previous year, however, this time Lindbergh did so in his “own ship”—and as a pilot. A few weeks after leaving Americus, the young airman achieved another key aviation milestone when he made his first nighttime flight near Lake Village, Arkansas.
Lindbergh damaged his “Jenny” on several occasions over the summer, usually by breaking the prop on landing. His most serious accident came when he ran into a ditch in a farm field in Glencoe, Minnesota, on June 3, 1923, while flying his father (who was then running for the U.S. Senate) to a campaign stop which grounded him for a week until he could repair his ship. In October, Lindbergh flew his Jenny to Iowa where he sold it to a flying student of his. (Found stored in a barn in Iowa almost half a century later, Lindbergh’s dismantled Jenny was carefully restored in the early 1970s and is now on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum located in Garden City, New York, adjacent to the site once occupied by Roosevelt Field from which Lindbergh took off on his flight to Paris in 1927). After selling the Jenny, Lindbergh returned to Lincoln by train where he joined up with Leon Klink and continued to barnstorm through the South for the next few months in Klink’s Curtis JN-4C “Canuck” (the Canadian version of the Jenny). Lindbergh also “cracked up” this plane once when his engine failed shortly after take off in Pensacola, Florida, but again he managed to repair the damage himself.
Following a few months of barnstorming through the South, the two pilots parted company in San Antonio, Texas, where Lindbergh had been ordered to report to Brooks Field on March 19, 1924, to begin a year of military flight training with the United States Army Air Service both there and later at nearby Kelly Field. Late in his training Lindbergh experienced his worst flying accident on March 5, 1925 when, eight days before graduation, he was involved in a midair collision with another Army S.E.5 while practicing aerial combat maneuvers and was forced to bail out. Only 18 of the 104 cadets who started flight training remained when Lindbergh graduated first overall in his class in March 1925 thereby earning his Army pilot’s wings and a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Service Reserve Corps. With the Army not then in need of additional active duty pilots, however, Lindbergh immediately returned to civilian aviation as a barnstormer and flight instructor, although as a reserve officer he also continued to do some part time military flying by joining the 110th Observation Squadron, 35th Division, Missouri National Guard, in St. Louis in November 1925 and was soon promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
Lindbergh later noted in “WE”, his best selling book published in July 1927, just two months after making his historic flight to Paris, that he considered this year of Army flight training to be the critically important one in his development as both a focused, goal oriented individual, as well as a skillful and resourceful aviator.
In October 1925, Lindbergh was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation (RAC) in St. Louis (where he had been working as a flight instructor) to first lay out, and then serve as chief pilot for the newly designated 278-mile (447 km) Contract Air Mail Route #2 (CAM-2) to provide service between St. Louis and Chicago (Maywood Field) with two intermediate stops in Springfield and Peoria, Illinois. Operating from Robertson’s home base at the Lambert-St. Louis Flying Field in Anglum, Missouri, Lindbergh and three other RAC pilots, Philip R. Love, Thomas P. Nelson, and Harlan A. “Bud” Gurney, flew the mail over CAM-2 in a fleet of four modified war surplus de Havilland DH-4 biplanes. Two days before he opened service on the route on April 15, 1926, with its first early morning southbound flight from Chicago to St. Louis, Lindbergh officially became authorized to be entrusted with the “care, custody, and conveyance” of U.S. Mails by formally subscribing and swearing to the Post Office Department’s 1874 Oath of Mail Messengers. It would not take long for him to be presented with the circumstances to prove how seriously he took this obligation.
Twice during the 10 months that he flew CAM-2, Lindbergh temporarily lost “custody and control” of mails that he was transporting when he was forced to bail out of his mail plane owing to bad weather, equipment problems, and/or fuel exhaustion. In the two incidents, which both occurred while he was approaching Chicago at night, Lindbergh landed by parachute near small farming communities in northeastern Illinois. On September 16, 1926, he came down about 60 miles southwest of Chicago near the town of Wedron, while six weeks later on November 3, 1926, Lindbergh bailed out again about 70 miles further south hitting the ground in another farm field located just west of the city of Bloomington near the town of Covell. After landing without serious injury on both occasions, Lindbergh’s first concern was to immediately locate the wreckage of his crashed mail planes, make sure that the bags of mail were promptly secured and salvaged, and then to see that they were entrained or trucked on to Chicago with as little further delay as possible. Lindbergh continued on as chief pilot of CAM-2 until mid-February 1927, when he left for San Diego, California, to oversee the design and construction of the Spirit of St. Louis.
Although Lindbergh never returned to service as a regular U.S. Air Mail pilot, for many years after making his historic nonstop flight to Paris he used the immense fame that his exploits had brought him to help promote the use of the U.S. Air Mail Service. He did this by giving many speeches on its behalf, and by carrying souvenir mail on both special promotional domestic flights as well as on a number of international flights over routes in Latin America and the Caribbean which he had laid out as a consultant to Pan American Airways to be then flown under contract to the Post Office Department as Foreign Air Mail (FAM) routes. At the request of Capt. Basil L. Rowe, the owner and Chief Pilot of West Indian Aerial Express and a fellow Air Mail pioneer and advocate, in February 1928, Lindbergh also carried a small amount of special souvenir mail between Santo Domingo, R.D., Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Havana, Cuba in the Spirit of St. Louis.
Those cities were the last three stops that he and the Spirit made during their 7,800-mile “Good Will Tour” of Latin America and the Caribbean between December 13, 1927 and February 8, 1928, during which he flew to Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, spending 125 hours in the air. The final two legs of the 48-day tour were also the only flights on which officially sanctioned, postally franked mail was ever carried in the Spirit of St. Louis. Exactly two weeks later, Lindbergh also “returned” to flying CAM-2 for two days so that he could pilot a series of special flights (northbound on February 20; southbound on February 21) on which many tens of thousands of self-addressed souvenir covers sent in from all over the nation and the world were cacheted, flown, backstamped, and then returned to their senders as a further means to promote awareness and the use of the Air Mail Service. Souvenir covers and other artifacts associated with or carried on flights piloted by Lindbergh are still actively collected under the general designation of “Lindberghiana.”
Pursuing the Orteig Prize
Designated to be awarded to the pilot of the first successful nonstop flight made in either direction between New York City and Paris within five years after its establishment, the $25,000 Orteig Prize was first offered by the French-born New York hotelier (Lafayette Hotel) Raymond Orteig on May 19, 1919. Although that initial time limit lapsed without a serious challenger, the state of aviation technology had advanced sufficiently by 1924 to prompt Orteig to extend his offer for another five years, and this time it began to attract an impressive grouping of well known, highly experienced, and well financed contenders. Ironically, the one exception among these competitors was the still boyish, 25-year-old relative latecomer to the race—Charles Lindbergh—who, in relation to the others, was virtually anonymous to the public as an aviation figure, had considerably less overall flying experience, and was being primarily financed by just a $15,000 bank loan and his own modest savings.
The first of the well known challengers to actually attempt a flight was famed World War I French flying ace René Fonck who on September 21, 1926, planned to fly eastbound from Roosevelt Airfield in New York in a three-engine Sikorsky S-35. Fonck never got off the ground, however, as his grossly overloaded (by 10,000 lbs) transport biplane crashed and burned on takeoff when its landing gear collapsed. (While Fonck escaped the flames, his two crew members, Charles N. Clavier and Jacob Islaroff, died in the fire.) U.S. Naval aviators LCDR Noel Davis and LT Stanton H. Wooster were also killed in a takeoff accident at Langley Field, Virginia, on April 26, 1927, while testing the three- engine Keystone Pathfinder biplane, American Legion, that they intended to use for the flight. Less than two weeks later, the first contenders to actually get airborne were French war heroes Captain Charles Nungesser and his navigator, François Coli, who departed from Paris – Le Bourget Airport on May 8, 1927, on a westbound flight in the Levasseur PL 8, The White Bird (L’Oiseau Blanc), although contact was lost with them after crossing the coast of Ireland and they were never seen or heard from again.
American air racer Clarence D. Chamberlin and Arctic explorer CDR (later RADM) Richard E. Byrd were also in the race. Although he did not win, Chamberlin and his passenger, Charles A. Levine, made the far less well remembered second successful nonstop flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Europe in the single engine Wright-Bellanca WB-2 Miss Columbia (N-X-237), leaving Roosevelt Field on June 4, 1927, two weeks after Lindbergh’s flight and landing in Eisleben, Germany near Berlin 43 hours and 31 minutes later on June 6, 1927. (Ironically, the Chamberlin monoplane was the same one that the Lindbergh group had originally intended to purchase for his attempt but passed on when the manufacturer insisted on selecting the pilot.) Byrd followed suit in the Fokker F.VII tri-motor, America, flying with three others from Roosevelt Field on June 29, 1927. Although they reached Paris on July 1, 1927, Byrd was unable to land there because of weather and was forced to return to the Normandy coast where he ditched the tri-motor high wing monoplane near the French village of Ver-sur-Mer.
Lindbergh’s flight to Paris
Six well known aviators had thus already lost their lives in pursuit of the Orteig Prize when Lindbergh took off on his successful attempt in the early morning of May 20, 1927. Dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis, his “partner” was a fabric covered, single-seat, single-engine “Ryan NYP” high wing monoplane (CAB registration: N-X-211) designed by Donald Hall and custom built by Ryan Aeronautical Company of San Diego, California. Although the primary source of funding for the purchase of the Spirit and other expenses related to the overall New York to Paris effort came from a $15,000 State National Bank of St. Louis loan made on February 18, 1927, to St. Louis businessmen Harry H. Knight and Harold M. Bixby, the project’s two principal trustees, and another $1,000 donated by Frank Robertson of RAC on the same day, Lindbergh himself also personally contributed $2,000 of his own money from both his savings and his earnings from the 10 months that he flew the U,S. Air Mail for RAC.
Burdened by its heavy load of 450 U.S. gallons of gasoline (approximately 2,710 lbs) and hampered by a muddy, rain soaked runway, Lindbergh’s Wright Whirlwind powered monoplane gained speed very slowly as it made its 7:52 AM takeoff run from Roosevelt Field, but its J-5C radial engine still proved powerful enough to allow the Spirit to clear the telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet with a fair reserve of flying speed.” Over the next 33.5 hours he and the “Spirit”—which Lindbergh always jointly referred to simply as “WE”—faced many challenges including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours, and navigating only by the stars (when visible) and “dead reckoning” before landing at Le Bourget at 10:22 PM on May 21. A crowd estimated at 150,000 spectators stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and literally carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour.” While some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters, both Lindbergh and the Spirit were eventually “rescued” from the mob by a group of French military fliers, soldiers, and police who took them both to safety in a nearby hangar. From that moment on, however, life would never again be the same for the previously little known former U.S. Air Mail pilot who, by his successful flight, had just achieved virtually instantaneous—and lifelong—world fame.
Although Lindbergh was the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris, he was not the first aviator to complete a transatlantic flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft. That had been done first in stages between May 8 and May 31, 1919, by the crew of the Navy-Curtiss NC-4 flying boat which took 24 days to complete its journey from Jamaica Bay at Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, to Plymouth, England, via Halifax, Nova Scotia, Trepassey Bay (Newfoundland), Horta (Azores) and Lisbon, Portugal. The lighter -than-air (LTA) U.S. Navy airship USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) made a non-stop crossing from the Zeppelin Company works in Friedrichshafen, Germany to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey from October 12 to 15, 1924.
The world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight (albeit over a route far shorter than Lindbergh’s, 1,890 miles vs. 3,600 miles,) was achieved nearly eight years earlier on June 14–15, 1919. Two British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV bomber from Lester’s Field near St. John’s, Newfoundland on June 14 and arrived at Clifden, Ireland, the following day. Both men were knighted at Buckingham Palace by King George V, in recognition of their pioneering achievement.
Aftermath of the flight
The French Foreign Office flew the American flag, the first time it had saluted someone not a head of state. Lindbergh made a series of flights in Europe using the Spirit before returning to the United States. Gaston Doumergue, the President of France, bestowed the French Légion d’honneur on the young Capt. Lindbergh, and on his arrival back in the United States aboard the United States Navy cruiser USS Memphis (CL-13) on June 11, 1927, a fleet of warships and multiple flights of military aircraft including pursuit planes, bombers and the rigid airship USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), escorted him up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. where President Calvin Coolidge awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On that same day that Lindbergh and the Spirit arrived in Washington, the U.S. Post Office Department issued a 10-Cent Air Mail stamp (Scott C-10) depicting the Spirit of St. Louis and a map of the flight. On June 13, 1927, a ticker-tape parade was held for him down 5th Avenue in New York City. The following night the City of New York further honored Capt. Lindbergh with a grand banquet at the Hotel Commodore attended by some 3,600 people.
After the flight, Lindbergh became an important voice on behalf of aviation activities, including the central committee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the United States. He embarked on a three-month cross country tour on behalf of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. The 1927 “Lindbergh Tour” culminated with visits to 48 states and 92 cities, where he delivered 147 speeches, and rode 1,290 miles in parades. At the conclusion of the tour, Lindbergh spent a month at Falaise, Guggenheim’s Sands Point mansion, where he wrote the acclaimed “We”, a book about his transatlantic flight published by George P. Putnam.
The massive publicity surrounding him and his flight boosted the aviation industry and made a skeptical public take air travel seriously. Within a year of his flight, a quarter of Americans (an estimated thirty million) personally saw Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis. Over the remainder of 1927 applications for pilot’s licenses in the U.S. trebled, the number of licensed aircraft quadrupled, and U.S. Airline passengers grew between 1926 and 1929 by 3,000% from 5,782 to 173,405. Lindbergh is recognized in aviation for demonstrating and charting polar air routes, high altitude flying techniques, and increasing flying range by decreasing fuel consumption. These innovations are the basis of modern intercontinental air travel.
The winner of the 1930 Best Woman Aviator of the Year Award, Elinor Smith Sullivan, said that before Lindbergh’s flight, “people seemed to think we (aviators) were from outer space or something. But after Charles Lindbergh’s flight, we could do no wrong. It’s hard to describe the impact Lindbergh had on people. Even the first walk on the moon doesn’t come close. The twenties was such an innocent time, and people were still so religious—I think they felt like this man was sent by God to do this. And it changed aviation forever because all of a sudden the Wall Streeters were banging on doors looking for airplanes to invest in. We’d been standing on our heads trying to get them to notice us but after Lindbergh, suddenly everyone wanted to fly, and there weren’t enough planes to carry them.”
Marriage and children
Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906–2001) was the daughter of diplomat Dwight Morrow whom he met in Mexico City in December 1927, where her father was serving as the U.S. Ambassador. According to a Biography Channel profile on Lindbergh, she was the only woman that he had ever asked out on a date. In Lindbergh’s autobiography, he derides womanizing pilots he met as a “barnstormer” and Army cadet, for their “facile” approach to relationships. For Lindbergh, the ideal romance was stable and long term, with a woman with keen intellect, good health and strong genes. Lindbergh said his “experience in breeding animals on our farm had taught me the importance of good heredity.”
The couple was married on May 27, 1929, and eventually had six children: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. (1930–1932); Jon Morrow Lindbergh (b. August 16, 1932); Land Morrow Lindbergh (b. 1937), who studied anthropology at Stanford University and married Susan Miller in San Diego; Anne Lindbergh (1940–1993); Scott Lindbergh (b. 1942); and Reeve Lindbergh (b. 1945), a writer. Lindbergh also taught his wife how to fly and did much of his exploring and charting of air routes with her.
“The Crime of the Century”
In what came to be referred to sensationally by the press of the time as “The Crime of the Century”, on the evening of March 1, 1932, 20-month old Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was abducted by an intruder from his crib in the second story nursery of his family’s rural home in East Amwell, New Jersey near the town of Hopewell. While a 10-week nationwide search for the child was being undertaken, ransom negotiations were also conducted simultaneously with a self-identified kidnapper by a volunteer intermediary, Dr. John F. Condon (aka “Jafsie”). These resulted in the payment on April 2 of $50,000 in cash, part of which was made in soon-to-be withdrawn (and thus more easily traceable) Gold certificates, in exchange for information—which proved to be false—about the child’s whereabouts. The search finally ended on May 12 when the remains of an infant were serendipitously discovered by truck driver William Allen about two miles (3 km) from the Lindberghs’ home in the woods near a road just north of the small village of Mount Rose, NJ. The child’s body was soon identified by Lindbergh as being that of his kidnapped son. A month later the Congress passed the so -called “Lindbergh Law” (18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)) on June 13, 1932, which made kidnapping a federal offense if the victim is taken across state lines or “uses the mail or any means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the commission of the offense” including as a means to demand a ransom.
Assiduous tracing of many $10 and $20 Gold certificates passed in the New York City area over the next year-and-a-half eventually led police to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a 34-year old German immigrant carpenter, who was arrested near his home in The Bronx, New York, on September 19, 1934. A stash containing $13,760 of the ransom money was subsequently found hidden in his garage. Charged with kidnapping, extortion, and first degree murder, Hauptmann went on trial in a circus-like atmosphere in Flemington, New Jersey on January 2, 1935. Six weeks later he was convicted on all counts when, following just eleven hours of deliberation, the jury delivered its verdict late on the night of February 13 after which trial judge Thomas Trenchard immediately sentenced Hauptmann to death. Although he continued to adamantly maintain his innocence, all of Hauptmann’s appeals and petitions for clemency were rejected by early December 1935. Despite a last minute attempt by New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman (who believed Hauptmann was guilty but also had always expressed doubts that he could have acted alone) to convince him to confess to the crimes in exchange for getting his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, the by then 36-year old Hauptmann refused and was electrocuted at Trenton State Prison on April 3, 1936.
The Lindberghs eventually grew tired of the never-ending spotlight on the family and came to fear for the safety of their then three-year old second son, Jon. Deciding, therefore, to seek seclusion in Europe, the family sailed from New York under a veil of secrecy on board the SS American Importer in the pre-dawn hours of December 22, 1935. The family rented “Long Barn” in the village of Sevenoaks Weald, Kent, England. One newspaper wrote that Lindbergh “won immediate popularity by announcing he intended to purchase his supplies ‘right in the village, from local tradesmen.’ The reserve of the villagers, most of whom had decided in advance he would be a blustering, boastful young American, is melting.” At the time of Hauptmann’s execution, local police almost sealed off the area surrounding Long Barn with “orders to regard as suspects anyone except residents who approached within a mile of the home.” Lindbergh later described his three years in the Kent village as “among the happiest days of my life.” In 1938 the family moved to Île Illiec, a small (four-acre) island Lindbergh purchased off the Breton coast of France.
Lindbergh became interested in the work of rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard in 1929. By helping Goddard secure an endowment from Daniel Guggenheim in 1930, Lindbergh allowed Goddard to expand his research and development. Throughout his life, Lindbergh remained a key advocate of Goddard’s work.
In 1930, Lindbergh’s sister-in-law developed a fatal heart condition. Lindbergh began to wonder why hearts could not be repaired with surgery. When living in France, Lindbergh studied the perfusion of organs outside the body with Nobel Prize-winning French surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel. Although perfused organs were said to have survived surprisingly well, all showed progressive degenerative changes within a few days. Lindbergh’s invention, a glass perfusion pump, named the “Model T” pump, is credited with making future heart surgeries possible. However, in this early stage, the pump was far from perfected. In 1938, Lindbergh and Carrel summarized their work in their book, The Culture of Organs describing an artificial heart but it was decades before one was built. In later years, Lindbergh’s pump was further developed by others, eventually leading to the construction of the first heart-lung machine.
At the behest of the U.S. military, Lindbergh traveled several times to Germany to report on German aviation and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) from 1936 through 1938.
Lindbergh toured German aviation facilities, where the commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring convinced Lindbergh the Luftwaffe was far more powerful than it was. With the approval of Göring and Ernst Udet, Lindbergh was the first American permitted to examine the Luftwaffe’s newest bomber, the Junkers Ju 88 and Germany’s front line fighter aircraft, the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Lindbergh received the unprecedented opportunity to pilot the Bf 109. Lindbergh said of the fighter that he knew “of no other pursuit plane which combines simplicity of construction with such excellent performance characteristics.” Colonel Lindbergh inspected all the types of military aircraft Germany was to use in 1939 and 1940.
Lindbergh reported to the U.S. military that Germany was leading in metal construction, low-wing designs, dirigibles and diesel engines. Lindbergh also undertook a survey of aviation in the Soviet Union in 1938. Lindbergh’s findings found their way into air intelligence reports to Washington long before the European war began.”
The American ambassador to Germany, Hugh Wilson, invited Lindbergh to dinner with Göring at the American embassy in Berlin in 1938. The dinner included diplomats and three of the greatest minds of German aviation, Ernst Heinkel, Adolf Baeumaker and Dr. Willy Messerschmitt. For Lindbergh’s 1927 flight and services to aviation, on behalf of Adolf Hitler, Göring presented him with the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle. (Henry Ford received the same award earlier in July.) However, Lindbergh’s acceptance of the medal caused controversy after Kristallnacht. Lindbergh declined to return the medal, later writing (according to A. Scott Berg): “It seems to me that the returning of decorations, which were given in times of peace and as a gesture of friendship, can have no constructive effect. If I were to return the German medal, it seems to me that it would be an unnecessary insult. Even if war develops between us, I can see no gain in indulging in a spitting contest before that war begins.”
During this period, Lindbergh was back on temporary duty as a colonel in the Army Air Corps assigned to the task of recruitment, finding a site for a new air force research institute and other potential air bases. Another role that he undertook was in evaluating new aircraft types in development. Assigned a Curtiss P-36 fighter, he toured various facilities, reporting back to Wright Field.
At the urging of U.S. Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, Lindbergh wrote a secret memo to the British warning that if Britain and France responded militarily to German dictator Adolf Hitler’s violation of the Munich Agreement in 1938, it would be suicide. Lindbergh stated that France’s military strength was inadequate and that Britain had an outdated military overly reliant upon naval power. He recommended they urgently strengthen their air arsenal in order to force Hitler to turn his ambitions eastward to a war against “Asiatic Communism.”
In a controversial 1939 Reader’s Digest article, Lindbergh said, “Our civilization depends on peace among Western nations… and therefore on united strength, for Peace is a virgin who dare not show her face without Strength, her father, for protection.” Lindbergh deplored the rivalry between Germany and Britain but favored a war between Germany and Russia. There is some controversy as to how accurate his reports concerning the Luftwaffe were, but Cole reports the consensus among British and American officials was that they were slightly exaggerated but badly needed.
“America First” Involvement
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Lindbergh resigned his commission as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps on September 14, 1939 to campaign as a private citizen for the antiwar America First Committee. He soon became its most prominent public spokesman, speaking to overflowing crowds in Madison Square Garden in New York City and Soldier Field in Chicago. His speeches were heard by millions. During this time, Lindbergh lived in Lloyd Neck, on Long Island, New York.
Lindbergh argued that America did not have any business attacking Germany and believed in upholding the Monroe Doctrine, which his interventionist rivals felt was outdated. Before World War II, according to Lindbergh historian A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh characterized that:
“the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler’s destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of western civilization.”
During his January 23, 1941, testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lindbergh recommended the United States negotiate a neutrality pact with Germany.
In a speech at an America First rally in Des Moines on September 11, 1941, “Who Are the War Agitators?” Lindbergh claimed the three groups, “pressing this country toward war (are) the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration” and said of Jewish groups,
“Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation.”
In the speech, he warned of the Jewish People’s “large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government”, and went on to say of Germany’s antisemitism, “No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany.” Lindbergh declared,
“I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.”
The speech was heavily criticized as being anti-Jewish. In response Lindbergh noted again he was not anti-Semitic, but he did not back away from his statements.
Interventionists created pamphlets pointing out his efforts were praised in Nazi Germany and included quotations such as “Racial strength is vital; politics, a luxury”. They included pictures of him and other America Firsters using the stiff-armed Bellamy salute (a hand gesture described by Francis Bellamy to accompany his Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States); the photos were taken from an angle not showing the American flag, so to observers it was indistinguishable from the Hitler salute.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt disliked Lindbergh’s outspoken opposition to intervention and Roosevelt’s policies such as the Lend-Lease Act. Roosevelt said to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau in May 1940, “if I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this, I am absolutely convinced Lindbergh is a Nazi.” To satisfy FDR’s political interest in discrediting his prominent foreign policy critics, FBI Director Hoover, on his own authority, began to investigate Lindbergh’s personal life. Hoover had his FBI agents look for anything that might discredit Lindbergh’s reputation as a decent, moral man, such as information purporting that during Prohibition, Lindbergh had bootlegged whiskey in Montana and had consorted with pimps and prostitutes. While not ordering the FBI to look into Lindbergh, given his prejudices against the famous aviator, President Roosevelt all the same did not complain about the FBI director’s efforts.
Racism and suspected Nazi sympathies
Lindbergh elucidated his beliefs about the white race in an article he published in Reader’s Digest in 1939:
“We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.”
Because of his trips to Nazi Germany, combined with a belief in eugenics, Lindbergh was suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer.
Lindbergh’s reaction to Kristallnacht was entrusted to his diary: “I do not understand these riots on the part of the Germans”, he wrote. “It seems so contrary to their sense of order and intelligence. They have undoubtedly had a difficult ‘Jewish problem,’ but why is it necessary to handle it so unreasonably?”
In his diaries, he wrote: “We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence…Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.”
Lindbergh’s anti-communism resonated deeply with many Americans while eugenics and Nordicism enjoyed social acceptance.
Although Lindbergh considered Hitler a fanatic and avowed a belief in American democracy, he clearly stated elsewhere that he believed the survival of the white race was more important than the survival of democracy in Europe: “Our bond with Europe is one of race and not of political ideology”, he declared. He had, however, a relatively positive attitude toward blacks (something that was scheduled to be fully revealed in an undelivered speech interrupted by the events that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor). Critics have noticed an apparent influence of German philosopher Oswald Spengler on Lindbergh. Spengler was a conservative authoritarian and during the interwar era, was widely read throughout Western World, though by this point he had fallen out of favor with the Nazis because he had not wholly subscribed to their theories of racial purity.
Lindbergh developed a long-term friendship with the automobile pioneer Henry Ford, who was well-known for his anti-Semitic newspaper The Dearborn Independent. In a famous comment about Lindbergh to Detroit’s former FBI field office special agent in charge in July 1940, Ford said: “When Charles comes out here, we only talk about the Jews.”
Lindbergh considered Russia to be a “semi-Asiatic” country compared to Germany, and he found Communism to be an ideology that would destroy the West’s “racial strength” and replace everyone of European descent with “a pressing sea of Yellow, Black, and Brown.” He openly stated, if he had to choose, he would rather see America allied with Nazi Germany than Soviet Russia. He preferred Nordics, but he believed, after Soviet Communism was defeated, Russia would be a valuable ally against potential aggression from East Asia.
Lindbergh said certain races have “demonstrated superior ability in the design, manufacture, and operation of machines.” He further said, “the growth of our western civilization has been closely related to this superiority.” Lindbergh admired, “the German genius for science and organization, the English genius for government and commerce, the French genius for living and the understanding of life.” He believed, “in America they can be blended to form the greatest genius of all.” His message was popular throughout many Northern communities and especially well-received in the Midwest, while the American South was Anglophilic and supported a pro-British foreign policy.
Holocaust researcher and investigative journalist Max Wallace, agrees with Franklin Roosevelt’s assessment that Lindbergh was “pro-Nazi” in his book, The American Axis. However, Wallace finds the Roosevelt Administration’s accusations of dual loyalty or treason as unsubstantiated. Wallace considers Lindbergh a well-intentioned but bigoted and misguided Nazi sympathizer whose career as the leader of the isolationist movement had a destructive impact on Jewish people.
Lindbergh’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, A. Scott Berg, contends Lindbergh was not so much a supporter of the Nazi regime as someone so stubborn in his convictions and relatively inexperienced in political maneuvering that he easily allowed rivals to portray him as one. Lindbergh’s receipt of the German medal was approved without objection by the American embassy; the war had not yet begun in Europe. Indeed, the award did not cause controversy until the war began and Lindbergh returned to the United States in 1939 to spread his message of non-intervention. Berg contends Lindbergh’s views were commonplace in the United States in the pre-World War II era. Lindbergh’s support for the America First Committee was representative of the sentiments of a number of American people.
Yet Berg also notes that “As late as April 1939—after Germany overtook Czechoslovakia—Lindbergh was willing to make excuses for Hitler. “Much as I disapprove of many things Hitler had done”, he wrote in his diary of April 2, 1939: “I believe she (Germany) has pursued the only consistent policy in Europe in recent years. I cannot support her broken promises, but she has only moved a little faster than other nations…in breaking promises. The question of right and wrong is one thing by law and another thing by history.” Berg also explains that leading up to the war, in Lindbergh’s mind, the great battle would be between the Soviet Union and Germany, not fascism and democracy. In this war, he believed that a German victory was preferable because of Stalin’s horrific acts, which, at the time, he believed were far worse than Hitler’s.
Berg finds Lindbergh believed in a voluntary rather than compulsory eugenics program. In Pat Buchanan’s book entitled A Republic, Not An Empire: Reclaiming America’s Destiny, he portrays Lindbergh and other pre-war isolationists as American patriots who were smeared by interventionists during the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. Buchanan suggests the backlash against Lindbergh highlights “the explosiveness of mixing ethnic politics with foreign policy.”
Lindbergh always preached military strength and alertness. He believed that a strong defensive war machine would make America an impenetrable fortress and defend the Western Hemisphere from an attack by foreign powers, and that this was the U.S. military’s sole purpose.
Many people acknowledge that Lindbergh helped keep American public opinion isolationist until 1941 by advancing the movement to keep America out of the war for as long as possible. Berg reveals that, while the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a shock to Lindbergh, he did predict that America’s “wavering policy in the Philippines” would invite a bloody war there, and, in one speech, he warned that “we should either fortify these islands adequately, or get out of them entirely”.
World War II
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh sought to be recommissioned in the United States Army Air Corps. The Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, declined the request on instructions from the White House.
Unable to take on an active military role, Lindbergh approached a number of aviation companies, offering his services as a consultant. As a technical adviser with Ford in 1942, he was heavily involved in troubleshooting early problems encountered at the Willow Run B-24 Liberator bomber production line. As B-24 production smoothed out, he joined United Aircraft in 1943 as an engineering consultant, devoting most of his time to its Chance-Vought Division. The following year, he persuaded United Aircraft to designate him a technical representative in the Pacific War to study aircraft performances under combat conditions. He showed Marine F4U Corsair pilots how to take off with twice the bomb load that the fighter-bomber was rated for and on May 21, 1944, he flew his first combat mission: a strafing run with VMF-222 near the Japanese garrison of Rabaul, in the Australian Territory of New Guinea. He was also flying with VMF 216 (first squadron there) during this period from the Marine Air Base at Torokina, Bougainville British Solomon Islands. Several Marine squadrons were flying bomber escorts to destroy this Japanese stronghold. His first flight was escorted by Lt. Robert E. (Lefty) McDonough. It was understood that Lefty refused to fly with him again, as he did not want to be known, as “the guy who killed Lindbergh.” Lindbergh was willing to engage the enemy, which the Marine pilots were told to avoid.
In his six months in the Pacific in 1944, Lindbergh took part in fighter bomber raids on Japanese positions, flying about 50 combat missions (again as a civilian). His innovations in the use of P-38 Lightning fighters impressed a supportive Gen. Douglas MacArthur.Lindbergh introduced engine-leaning techniques to P-38 pilots, greatly improving fuel usage at cruise speeds, enabling the long-range fighter aircraft to fly longer range missions. The U.S. Marine and Army Air Force pilots who served with Lindbergh praised his courage and defended his patriotism.
On July 28, 1944, during a P-38 bomber escort mission with the 433rd Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force, in the Ceram area, Lindbergh shot down a Sonia observation plane piloted by Captain Saburo Shimada, Commanding Officer of the 73rd Independent Chutai.
After the war, while touring the Nazi concentration camps, Lindbergh wrote in his autobiography that he was disgusted and angered.
After World War II, he lived in Darien, Connecticut and served as a consultant to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and to Pan American World Airways. With most of Eastern Europe having fallen under Communist control, Lindbergh believed most of his pre-war assessments were correct all along. But Berg reports after witnessing the defeat of Germany and the Holocaust firsthand shortly after his service in the Pacific, “he knew the American public no longer gave a hoot about his opinions.” His 1953 book The Spirit of St. Louis, recounting his nonstop transatlantic flight, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954, and his literary agent, George T. Bye, sold the film rights to Hollywood for more than a million dollars. Dwight D. Eisenhower restored Lindbergh’s assignment with the U.S. Army Air Corps and made him a Brigadier General in 1954. In that year, he served on the Congressional advisory panel set up to establish the site of the United States Air Force Academy. In December 1968, he visited the crew of Apollo 8 on the eve of the first manned spaceflight to leave Earth orbit. On July 16, 1969, Lindbergh and the “Spirit of St. Louis” constructor, Tubal Claude Ryan were present at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of Apollo 11.
Children from other relationships
From 1957 until his death in 1974, Lindbergh had an affair with German hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer who lived in a small Bavarian town called Geretsried (35 km south of Munich). On November 23, 2003, DNA tests proved that he fathered her three children: Dyrk (1958), Astrid (1960) and David (1967). The two managed to keep the affair secret; even the children did not know the true identity of their father, whom they saw when he came to visit once or twice per year using the alias, “Careu Kent.” Astrid later read a magazine article about Lindbergh and found snapshots and more than a hundred letters written from him to her mother. She disclosed the affair after both Brigitte and Anne Morrow Lindbergh had died. At the same time as Lindbergh was involved with Brigitte Hesshaimer, he also had a relationship with her sister, Marietta, who bore him two more sons—Vago and Christoph. Lindbergh had a house of his own design built for Marietta in a vineyard in Grimisuat in the Swiss canton Valais.
A 2005 book by German author Rudolf Schroeck, Das Doppelleben des Charles A. Lindbergh (The Double Life of Charles A. Lindbergh), claims seven secret children existed in Germany. It says Lindbergh “came and went as he pleased” during the last 17 years of his life, spending between three to five days with his Munich family about four to five times each year. “Ten days before he died in August 1974, Lindbergh wrote three letters from his hospital bed to his three mistresses and requested ‘utmost secrecy'”, Schroeck writes, whose book includes a copy of that letter to Brigitte Hesshaimer.
Two of the seven children were from his relationship with the East Prussian aristocrat Valeska, who was Lindbergh’s private secretary in Europe. They had a son in 1959 and a daughter in 1961. She had been friends with the Hesshaimer sisters and was the one who introduced them to Charles Lindbergh. In the beginning, they lived all together in his apartment in Rome. However, the friendship ended when Brigitte Hesshaimer became pregnant by him as well. Valeska lives in Baden-Baden and wants to keep her privacy, as mentioned in many German and International Reuter’s newspaper articles, in Rudolf Schroek’s book and a TV documentary by Danuta Harrich-Zandberg and Walter Harrich.
In April 2008, Reeve Lindbergh, his youngest daughter with wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh, published Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age and Other Unexpected Adventures, a book of essays that includes her discovery in 2003, of the truth about her father’s three secret European families and her journeys to meet them and understand an expanded meaning of family.
From the 1960s on, Lindbergh campaigned to protect endangered species like humpback and blue whales, was instrumental in establishing protections for the controversial Filipino group, the Tasaday, and African tribes, and supporting the establishment of a national park. While studying the native flora and fauna of the Philippines, he became involved in an effort to protect the Philippine Eagle. In his final years, Lindbergh stressed the need to regain the balance between the world and the natural environment, and spoke against the introduction of supersonic airliners.
Lindbergh’s speeches and writings later in life emphasized his love of both technology and nature, and a lifelong belief that “all the achievements of mankind have value only to the extent that they preserve and improve the quality of life.” In a 1967 Life magazine article, he said, “The human future depends on our ability to combine the knowledge of science with the wisdom of wildness.”
In honor of Charles and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s vision of achieving balance between the technological advancements they helped pioneer, and the preservation of the human and natural environments, the Lindbergh Award was established in 1978. Each year since 1978, the Lindbergh Foundation has given the award to recipients whose work has made a significant contribution toward the concept of “balance.”
Lindbergh’s final book, Autobiography of Values, based on an unfinished manuscript was published posthumously. While on his death bed, he had contacted his friend, William Jovanovich, head of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, to edit the lengthy memoirs.
Lindbergh spent his final years on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where he died of lymphoma on August 26, 1974 at age 72. He was buried on the grounds of the Palapala Ho’omau Church in Kipahulu, Maui. His epitaph on a simple stone which quotes Psalms 139:9, reads: “Charles A. Lindbergh Born Michigan 1902 Died Maui 1974”. The inscription further reads: “…If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea… C.A.L.”