Often called the Roaring Twenties, the 1920s were generally marked by people’s feelings of discontinuity associated with modernity and a separation from traditions. Some sense of normalcy returned to politics in the aftermath of the high patriotism from World War I, jazz music exploded, Art Deco came into vogue, and new female archetypes such as the ‘flapper’ challenged then-traditional notions of womanhood.
Industrially and economically speaking, the average American saw the unprecedented, large-scale proliferation of automobiles, telephones, motion pictures, and electricity, to the point where every idea or dream seemed feasible through technology alone. Marvelous industrial growth, accelerated consumer demand and aspirations, and significant changes in lifestyle and culture came to define what we now call the ‘modern life’. However, one industry, and one of its pioneers in particular, came to define the way Americans thought of themselves and their possibilities for the rest of the century.
THE ROARING TWENTIES IN CHICAGO
Aviation had a rising and definitive impact on American life in the 1920’s, and on the way Americans lived and worked. At the start of the decade, only a couple of years after the end of World War I, aviation was still very much a fledgling industry. Companies existed to build military airplanes, and a few civilian companies started to make aircraft for commercial use. Airplane manufacturers including Swallow, Waco, and Travel Air all had their start in the 1920s, along with some companies that still exist to this day, including Ryan and Lockheed.
Airplane designs grew from 80 mph biplanes to speedy race planes flying at over 200 mph, and the airline industry, already established in Europe, started flying over the vast United States. Airplanes such as the Stinson, Fokker and Ford tri-motored airliners all were designed and built during that decade. But one single aviation event in 1927, using a single-engine plane and careful planning, investment, and calculations, caught the spirit and soul of an entire nation.
CHARLES LINDBERGH & THE 1927 SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS
Six well-known aviators had already lost their lives by the time Charles Lindbergh took Raymond Orteig’s prize-winning challenge to fly solo from New York City to Paris. Known up to that time only by his sometimes death-defying feats and pioneering service as a US Air Mail pilot, Charles Lindbergh took advantage of technology, experience, and opportunity to compete for the $25,000 prize.
A man of calculated risk, Lindbergh was also altogether brave and courageous. “What kind of man would live where there is no danger?,” he would later say, “I don’t believe in taking foolish chances. But nothing can be accomplished by not taking a chance at all.” Instead of the tri-motor planes that were popular and favored at the time, Lindbergh depended on a single-engine plane that he called the ‘Spirit Of St. Louis’: a fabric covered, single-seat, single-engine "Ryan NYP" high-wing monoplane, custom designed out of San Diego, California. Since weight had contributed to previous crashes, Lindbergh lightened the load of the plane by, among other things, getting rid of non-essential equipment like radios, sextant and parachute (although he did bring an inflatable raft). And finally, contrary to the comfortability of other pilots at the time, he decided to fly into weather conditions that were clearing but not clear enough by then-current standards.
CHARLES LINDBERGH - A COURAGEOUS AMERICAN ABOUT TO SOAR INTO HISTORY
Sometime after this world-famous achievement at the young age of 25, Charles Lindbergh was quoted as saying: “It is the greatest shot of adrenaline to be doing what you have wanted to do so badly. You almost feel like you could fly without the plane.” Though aviation was his core calling and love, he later went on to succeed as an ambassador for changes and trends in flight technology, an award-winning author, environmentalist and anti-war activist, the last of which being still the subject of much interpretation and recent controversy. Nevertheless, accomplishing such an aviation feat not rivaled until the 1947 breaking of the sound barrier, Charles Lindbergh still deserves to be remembered as a remarkably fearless, relentlessly persistent, and intelligent hero who still today reminds us of a core American belief: If you put your whole body, mind, soul into what you love to do, anything is possible.
A SCARCE SIGNED PHOTOGRAPH OF CHARLES LINDBERGH IN HIS 1927 AVIATION APPAREL - FROM THE RALEIGH DEGEER AMYX COLLECTION
HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR - RALEIGH DEGEER AMYX