Amelia Earhart's flight suit
Pilot Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) earned revenue by carrying philatelic materials on her flights. Earhart owned and wore this leather wool-lined flight suit manufactured by Arnold, Constable & Company, of Paris and New York. Such suits were essential for long-distance flights. Early airplanes offered scant protection from the elements, especially the icy cold at altitudes of 20,000 feet.
Born in Atchison, Kansas, Earhart fell in love with aviation at an early age. She was an excellent student and soloed in 1918 after only ten hours of instruction. In the early 1920s, she worked in a telephone office and photography studio to earn money for flying. In 1928 she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic by plane, accompanying pilot Wilmer Stultz in a Fokker tri-motor from Newfoundland to Wales. In 1931 she married publisher George Palmer Putnam. The following year she assured her place in history by becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. On May 21, 1932, she flew from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland. The flight earned her worldwide acclaim and a number of awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Legion of Honor.
In 1935 Earhart became the first woman to fly solo between Hawaii and the continental United States. Unlike Charles Lindbergh, Earhart was never a licensed airmail pilot. She did, however, carry mail. Her husband helped her raise funds for her flights by arranging for her to carry and autograph special letters that were sold to philatelists. The National Postal Museum owns her private collection.
After having set a speed record for flying non-stop from Mexico City to New York City in fourteen hours and nineteen minutes, Amelia Earhart tried to become the first female pilot to fly around the world. She took-off from Miami, Florida, on June 1, 1937, in her Electra aircraft, accompanied by Fred Noonan, her navigator. On July 2, while flying between Lae, New Guinea, and Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean, her plane vanished. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca, stationed near Howland Island, picked up intermittent signals from Earhart before she was lost. In one message, she reported that she was circling, unable to locate the island. Ships and radio hams reported receiving mysterious signals over the next two days, but none could be satisfactorily understood or identified. The search for the downed plane was the greatest air rescue attempt made to that date, using ten ships and 102 American planes. The search was fruitless. Neither Earhart nor her navigator was heard from again. Earhart’s fate continues to be a source of much speculation.
Arnold, Constable & Co., of Paris and New York had at least one other connection with a woman aviator. In October 1927 Ruth Elder carried a letter from the company’s New York store on a proposed transatlantic flight. The letter, addressed to “the manufacturers and couturiers of Europe and of America,” touted the company’s hundredth anniversary. Elder’s airplane was forced down in the ocean, where she and pilot George Haldeman were rescued by an oil tanker. Earhart did not carry a message from the company across the Atlantic on her successful flights, but she did wear an Arnold, Constable & Company-manufactured flight suit on at least one of them.