Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan as son of Swedish immigrants. He grew up in Little Falls, Minnesota. His father was a lawyer and later a U.S. congressman who opposed the entry of the U.S. into World War I; his mother was a chemistry teacher. Early on he showed an interest in machines. In 1922 he quit a mechanical-engineering program, joined a pilot and mechanist training with Nebraska Aircraft, bought his own airplane, a Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny", and became a stunt pilot. In 1924, he started training as a U.S. military aviator with the United States Army Air Service. After finishing first in his class, he worked as a civilian airmail pilot on the line St. Louis in the 1920s.
First solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean
Lindbergh gained sudden great international fame as the first pilot to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, flying from Roosevelt Airfield (Nassau County, Long Island), New York City to Paris on May 20-May 21, 1927 in his single-engined airplane The Spirit of St. Louis which had been custom built by Ryan Airlines of San Diego, California. He needed 33.5 hours for the trip.
This accomplishment, which was the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris and the first solo flight across the Atlantic, won him the Orteig Prize of $25,000. A ticker-tape parade was held for him down 5th Avenue in New York City on June 13, 1927. His public stature following this flight was such that he became an important voice on behalf of aviation activities until his death. He served on a variety of national and international boards and committees, including the central committee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the United States. On March 21, 1928 he was presented the Medal of Honor for his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
Lindbergh is recognized in aviation for demonstrating and charting polar air-routes, high altitude flying techniques, and increasing aircraft flying range by decreasing fuel consumption. These innovations are the basis of modern intercontinental air travel.
Marriage, children, kidnapping
He married the author Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1929. He taught her how to fly and did much of the exploring and charting of air-routes together with her. The two had six children: Charles Augustus III (born 1930), Jon (1932), Land (1937), Anne (1940), Scott (1942) and Reeve (1945).
Their son Charles Augustus, 20 months old, was abducted on March 1, 1932 from their home. The boy was found dead on May 12 in Hopewell, New Jersey just a few miles from the Lindbergh's home, after a nation-wide ten week search and ransom negotiations with the kidnappers. More than three years later, a media circus ensued when the man accused of the murder, Bruno Hauptmann, went on trial. Tired of being in the spotlight and still mourning the loss of their son, the Lindberghs moved to Europe in December 1935. Hauptman, who maintained his innocence until the end, was found guilty and was executed on April 3, 1936. See Lindbergh kidnapping for a more detailed treatment of the case.
Second World War
In Europe during the rise of Fascism, Lindbergh traveled to Germany several times at the behest of the United States military, where he reported on the German air force. In 1938, Hermann Göring offered him a German medal of honor, and Lindbergh's acceptance caused an outcry in the United States when Lindbergh's closeness to the Nazis was criticized. Lindbergh declined to return the medal to the Germans because he claimed that to do so would be "an unnecessary insult" to the Nazi leadership. Lindbergh's letters and diaries of the time indicate that he approved of Nazi policies and of Hitler's leadership.
As the Nazis invaded country after country, Lindbergh became a prominent speaker in favor of an isolationist policy for the USA. On January 23, 1941 Lindbergh testified before the United States Congress and recommended that the United States negotiate a neutrality pact with Adolf Hitler. Lindbergh was a major spokesman for America First, and at a rally in Des Moines on Sept 11 1941, he accused "the Jewish race" of being behind the drive to have America enter World War II on the side of England. In the same speech, Lindbergh clearly communicates that he considers Americans of Jewish descent to not be fully American when he says, in reference to American Jews, "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 people to lead our country to destruction." Although Lindbergh never returned his Nazi medal, he resigned his commission in the Army Air Corps when President Roosevelt openly questioned his loyalty.
However, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he attempted to return to the USAAF, but was denied when several of Roosevelt's cabinet secretaries registered objections. He went on to assist with the war effort by serving as a civilian consultant to aviation companies and the government, as well as flying about 50 combat missions (again as a civilian) in 1944 in the Pacific.
After World War II he lived quietly in Connecticut as an consultant both to the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force and to Pan American World Airways. His 1953 book, The Spirit of St. Louis, recounting his non-stop transatlantic flight, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. Dwight D. Eisenhower fully rehabilitated him by restoring his assignment with the Army Air Corps and making him Brigadier General in 1954. In the 1960s, he became a spokesman for the conservation of the natural world, speaking in favor of the protection of whales and against super-sonic transport planes.
From 1957 until his death in 1974, Lindbergh had an affair with a woman 24 years his junior, the German hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer. They had three children together: Dyrk (born 1958), Astrid, and David (born 1967). The two managed to keep the affair completely secret; even the children did not know the true identity of their father, whom they met sporadically when he came to visit. 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 in 2003, two years after Brigitte Hesshaimer had died.
Lindbergh spent his final years on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where he died of cancer on August 26, 1974. He was buried on the grounds of the Palapala Ho'omau Church. His epitaph, which quotes Psalms 139:9, reads: Charles A. Lindbergh Born: Michigan, 1902. Died: Maui, 1974. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea. — CAL
The Lindbergh Terminal at Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Airport was named after him and a replica of The Spirit of St. Louis hangs there. San Diego International Airport was also named after him.
- Lindbergh foundation
- Pat Ranfranz: CharlesLindbergh.com
- Woody Guthrie on Lindbergh
- FBI History - Famous cases: The Lindbergh kidnapping
- Gerd Kröncke: "Der Amerikaner und die Hutmacherin", Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 2, 2003 (German).