“The glory of soaring above God’s Earth and the satisfaction of taking the machine up and bringing it back to the ground safely, through my own skill and judgment, has melted away the boundaries of my life. Racing opens my door to the world. Don’t cut me off from the adventure men have been hoarding for themselves in the guise of protecting me from danger.” – unnamed female aviator, 1929
Several of the women aviators competing in the 1929 Air Derby gathered for this photograph at Parks Airport in Illinois. Included, from left-to-right, are Mary Von Mach, Jessie Miller, Gladys O’Donnell, Thea Rasche, Phoebe Omlie, Louise Thaden, Amelia Earhart, Blanche Noyes, Ruth Elder, and Vera Walker. THF256262
The 1929 Women’s “Powder Puff” Air Derby was the first air race in which women aviators were allowed to participate, despite air races occurring internationally and nationally since 1909. By 1929, 117 women held pilot’s licenses in the United States and were breaking records, including some set by men, left and right. Twenty of these aviators arrived at Clover Field in Santa Monica ready to compete, but perhaps the greater motivation was to show the world how truly capable women aviators were.
The derby, from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, was to be completed over nine days with the total time in flight recorded each day. The aviator with the shortest flight time overall, for both the DW (heavy aircraft) and CW (light aircraft) classes, would win the top prize. In order to qualify to compete, the aviators, like their male counterparts in the National Air Races, were required to have completed over 100 logged hours in flight. Several of the twenty aviators did not actually meet this qualification but flew anyway. Unlike their male counterparts, however, there were restrictions placed on the women’s aircraft engine strength. One of the aviators, Opal Kunz, had her newly-purchased 300 horsepower Travel Air airplane deemed “too fast for a woman” and was forced to rent a 200 horsepower plane for use in the derby.
The nine-day derby saw multiple mishaps. Both Florence “Pancho” Barnes and Ruth Nichols crashed their planes but managed to escape unscathed. Phoebe Omlie accidentally landed in a field where the local Sheriff nearly arrested her for alleged drug smuggling, while numerous other aviators discovered suspected sabotage efforts to their aircraft. Ruth Elder, lost on the leg to Phoenix and needing directions, accidentally landed in a field of grazing bulls, causing her to panic that the red color of her airplane would incite anger. The farmer’s wife relayed her location and Elder quickly resumed flight without damages. Tragically, on the second day of the race, Marvel Crosson perished when she crashed in the Arizona desert. Despite calls to suspend the race after Crosson’s death, the remaining women decided that finishing the race would best honor their fallen friend.
On the final day, August 26, 1929, fifteen of the original twenty women crossed the finish line in Cleveland, Ohio. Louise Thaden won the DW class and Phoebe Omlie won the CW class. As Thaden was lauded for her first-place finish, she addressed the crowd, “The sunburn derby is over, and I happened to come in first place. I’m sorry we all couldn’t come in first, because they all deserve it as much as I.”
The Henry Ford recently added over 200 artifacts related to women aviators to the Digital Collections. Of the women aviators who competed in the 1929 Air Derby, the collection includes archival materials for five of them; Louise Thaden, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Mary Von Mach, and Ruth Nichols. Numerous other significant early female aviators that did not participate in the 1929 Air Derby are also represented in the collection.
Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Though the Wright Brothers first successfully flew their heavier-than-air flyer in 1903, it wasn’t until August 8, 1908, that Wilbur Wright offered the first official public demonstration of their creation. In a series of flights between August and the end of the year, Wright quashed many skeptics by showing the flyer’s maneuverability. Images of those flights remain today in the archives of The Henry Ford in a series of glass plate negatives in the Bollée Collection, named after Leon Bollée, a French automaker and aviation enthusiast. We’ve just digitized all of these glass plate negatives, including documentary images of the flyer before, during, and after these flights, as well as many images covering the personal and business interests of Leon Bollée. The fascinating image shown here depicts the Wright Flyer being transported along a narrow road in France—an endeavor that must have had its challenges. View over 150 more newly-digitized Bollée images by visiting our Digital Collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Amelia Earhart. We know her as a famous aviatrix—the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932 and the daring pilot who disappeared attempting an around-the-world flight in 1937.
But long before the celebrity fashion brand frenzy of more recent decades—think Jaclyn Smith, Jessica Simpson, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Jay Z and countless others—Amelia Earhart had her own fashion line.
Yes, the motivation was to make money. Not to support a lavish lifestyle, but to finance her true passion—the adventure of flying.
By the end of the 19th century technological miracles were commonplace. Railroad trains routinely traveled a-mile-a-minute. Electric lights could turn night into day. Voices traveled over wires. Pictures could be set into motion. Lighter-than-air balloons and dirigibles even offered access to the sky. But the age-old dream of flying with wings like birds still seemed like a fantasy. In a simple bicycle shop now located in Greenfield Village, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, turned the fantasy of heavier-than-air flight into reality.
It’s ironic – like, in the actual “opposite of what you’d expect” way as opposed to the “merely coincidental” way in which the term is often misused. The Ford Mustang is revered as one of the most “American” of all cars. Its name conjures up images of the Wild West. Its early logo incorporated red, white and blue stripes. The car’s very look is based on our country’s obsessions with speed and style. And yet Mustang Serial Number One, sold 50 years ago this month, went to a Canadian. Yeah, that’s irony.
On April 14, 1964, Eastern Provincial Airlines pilot Stanley Tucker walked into George Parsons Ford, a dealership perched on the eastern edge of the continent in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was love at first sight. The sharp-looking Wimbledon White convertible jumped out at the 33 year-old pilot, and he knew he had to have it. We don’t know the name of the person who sold the car to Tucker – but the pilot must have been quite a salesman himself. Somehow, he convinced Parsons Ford to break street date and sell him the car three days before April 17, when Ford officially released Mustang to the world. He took serial number 5F08F100001 home and, for a short time, was the general public’s only Mustang owner.
Mustang Serial Number One should not have been sold on that early date. In fact, it shouldn’t have been sold at all. The car was one of approximately 180 pre-production cars built at the Rouge between February 10 and March 5, 1964. These initial cars served two purposes: 1.) They eased Ford into full production by familiarizing workers and supervisors with the build process, and 2.) They formed a batch of physical cars that could be shipped to every major Ford dealer in time for the April 17 launch. Logically, the first cars built were sent to the farthest dealers – hence Serial Number One wound up 2,180 miles from Dearborn in St. John’s. (Twelve of these pre-production cars, incidentally, went to the New York World’s Fair for use in Ford’s Magic Skyway ride.)
Being a pre-production or, if you will, “practice” car, Serial Number One has a few quirks not seen in regular Mustangs. Careful observers will notice that the hood’s fit is a little crooked. The door lock knobs have no grommets at their bases. The front grille’s color tends more toward gray than the bluish hue seen on regular production cars. The engine block is painted gray instead of the black on later Mustangs. Little details like these changed after full production began on March 9.
Not long after Capt. Tucker made his purchase, Ford tracked him down and asked to have Serial Number One back. Not surprisingly, Tucker declined the request. He spent the next two years putting some 10,000 miles on his pony car. By early 1966, when nearly one million Mustangs had been sold and the car’s status as a Ford landmark was secure, the Blue Oval called again. This time, Ford offered Tucker a worthy trade: in exchange for returning Serial Number One, he could have the One Millionth Mustang, equipped to his specifications. Tucker agreed and, when filling out the order, covered the entire option sheet with single large “X.” The only extra he didn’t take was the High Performance 289 engine – it carried a shorter warranty period.
Tucker came to Dearborn on March 2, 1966, met Ford vice-president (and Mustang father) Lee Iacocca, and posed for photos with his new Silver Frost 1966 Mustang convertible. Meanwhile, Ford reclaimed Tucker’s much-loved Serial Number One and soon donated it to The Henry Ford. Seventeen years after the trade, when Mustang Monthly magazine caught up with Tucker, the pilot expressed some understandable regret that he’d let go of Serial Number One. As we celebrate 50 years of Mustang, though, we can be grateful that 5F08F100001 is preserved for all to enjoy. Many of our visitors, upon seeing the car in Henry Ford Museum, get that same gleam in their eyes that Stanley Tucker must have gotten all those years ago.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
By 1925, Americans could travel long distances by train or automobile. Rail lines and new numbered highways nearly spanned the country. Though air travel was an interesting suggestion, it seemed unreliable. Airplanes were incredible inventions that had crossed oceans and navigated the globe. But there had been accidents, and too many had been fatal. Americans thought it best to leave planes to the brave—soldiers who’d flown in World War I. Entrepreneurial barnstormers. A few intrepid airmail pilots.