On the evening of May 19, 1927, Charles Lindbergh read the weather prediction for the following day and decided that although it was drizzling on Long Island, the reports gave a chance of fair skies for his trip. He spent the small hours of the next morning in sleepless preparation, went to Curtiss Field, received further weather news, had his plane trundled to Roosevelt Field and fueled, and a little before eight o’clock on the morning of the 20th, climbed in and took off for Paris.
Raymond Orteig, the owner of the Brevoort and Lafayette Hotels in New York had offered a prize of $25,000 in 1919 for the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris. At the time Lindbergh took off there were two other planes ready to make the attempt. One was the Columbia which was to be piloted by Clarence Chamberlin and Lloyd Bertaud, and the other, the America with Lieutenant-Commander Byrd of North Pole fame in command.
There had been much speculation as to which plane would be first to make the leap, and when new reports began to come in about Lindbergh’s departure, people all over the country began to follow his progress. Some failed to sleep, as Lindy himself would have to do, during the 32 hours it took for him to cross the Atlantic, the coasts of Ireland, England, and land at Le Bourget airport just outside Paris.
The achievement became the greatest event in anyone’s memory. One paper devoted one hundred column inches to his story. Another paper said that he had performed “the greatest feat of a solitary man in the records of the human race.” No one objected when President Coolidge sent a cruiser of the United States Navy to bring him and his plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis” back from France.
Western Union provided forms for people to use in sending their congratulations to the young man, and 55,000 telegrams were delivered to him in a truck which followed his parade through Washington, DC. One telegram from Minneapolis was signed with 17,500 names and made up a scroll 520 feet long. Ten messenger boys carried the unrolled scroll in the procession. After the public welcome in New York, the street cleaners swept up 1,800 tons of paper compared with only 155 tons after the Armistice parade.
Lindbergh was commissioned Colonel, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and innumerable foreign decorations and honorary memberships. He was offered two and a half million dollars for a tour of the world by air, and $700,000 to appear in the films. His signature was sold for $1,600, a Texas town was named for him, a thirteen-hundred-foot Lindbergh tower was proposed for the city of Chicago, “the largest dinner ever tendered to an individual in modern history” was consumed in his honor, and a staggering number of streets, schools, restaurants, and, of course, the dance were all given his name.