Does the World Still Care about Charles Lindbergh?

21, May 2017
Black-and-white photo of crowds awaiting Charles Lindbergh at the Le Bourget Airport in ParisCrowds await Lindbergh's arrival at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, May 1927. Missouri History Museum.

On May 21, 1927, airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. As he navigated the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris, the world watched closely. When the plane touched down at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, a jubilant crowd greeted the aviator and created shockwaves of excitement that could be felt around the globe. Newspaper headlines lauded Lindbergh’s feat, throngs of people followed his every move, and various heads of state and dignitaries awarded him with medals of honor and extraordinary gifts.

In just 33.5 hours, Lindbergh had captured the attention and hearts of people everywhere. He was renowned as an aviation pioneer, instant celebrity, and superhero. But now that we’re 90 years removed from his historic journey, do we as a society still care about it?

After Lindbergh arrived in Paris, many schoolchildren sent him pictures and congratulatory letters. In today’s classrooms, it’s debatable whether students even know about Lindbergh’s accomplishment. This past school year, the Missouri History Museum offered a program for 6th- through 12th-graders that examined the early life of Charles Lindbergh and the significance of his transatlantic flight—yet no schools booked the program. With all the subjects teachers must cover in the classroom, perhaps Lindbergh’s feat just doesn’t make the cut anymore.   

Color drawing by Hilda Manel for Charles LindberghA color drawing by Hilda Mandel for Charles Lindbergh, 1927. Missouri History Museum.

When Lindbergh returned to St. Louis in June 1927, more than 80,000 people visited the Missouri History Museum in just 10 days for a chance to view the trophies, awards, and gifts the aviator had loaned to the Museum. This overwhelming response led Lindbergh to extend his initial loan period before deciding to make the artifacts a permanent donation in 1933. That was then. As recently as April of this year, a mere handful of individuals was interested in the chance to learn about Lindbergh’s airmail days and view some of the unique congratulatory items from his famous flight.

It would seem that Lindbergh is less fascinating today than he was back in 1927. This begs the question of why.

  • Do schools just not teach about Lindbergh anymore, except for a passing mention in a textbook?
  • Did the anti-Semitic views apparent in many of his written and public statements before and during World War II take the shine off of his rising star?
  • Was his support of the America First Committee, which opposed providing assistance to Great Britain in World War II, the beginning of a gradual fall from favor? (Perhaps one aided by President Franklin Roosevelt criticizing him for his isolationist views?)
  • Could the secret life he maintained while married to Anne Morrow Lindbergh have resulted in a general loss of respect? (The aviator was linked to three European women and fathered seven children—news that didn’t come out until after Anne’s death in 2001.)
Sepia-toned photo of celebratory parade for Charles Lindbergh in St. Louis on June 18, 1927A celebratory parade for Lindbergh rolls down Olive Street in St. Louis on June 18, 1927. Missouri History Museum.

One thing is clear: Lindbergh’s controversial opinions and actions after 1927 don’t negate the fact that he was the first person to successfully fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean without crashing. Lindbergh’s achievement opened up the skies for more aviation innovations to follow, including longer flights; greater distances; and the ability to transport mail, people, and cargo throughout the world. Airplanes have become so integrated into our everyday life that now we often take them for granted—in many ways we have Charles Lindbergh’s daring flight to thank for that.

—Jason D Stratman, Assistant Librarian, Reference

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