Young and handsome, modest and daring, Charles Lindbergh was probably the first mass-media celebrity. After performing the amazing feat of flying solo from New York to Paris, France, in his small airplane in 1927, Lindbergh became an international hero, adored by millions and hounded by the press. Lindbergh gained fame not only for his flight, but because he represented qualities of adventurous boldness that were highly valued during the 1920s. It was a time of new achievements and modern inventions, and, by flying across the Atlantic Ocean, Lindbergh had opened up a new world of possibilities.
Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1902. His father, a lawyer, and his mother, a science teacher, raised him in the small farm community of Little Falls, Minnesota, where young Charles learned independence very early. He began driving an automobile at the age of eleven and later dropped out of the University of Wisconsin to learn to fly airplanes. He loved flying and soon had a job flying mail from St. Louis, Missouri, to Chicago, Illinois. In 1927, when a New York hotel owner offered $25,000 to the first pilot to fly alone across the Atlantic, Lindbergh was determined at once to try. On May 21, 1927, he took five sandwiches and a bottle of water in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis , and took off from New York's Roosevelt Field.
Lindbergh had sought to win money and fame for his accomplishment, but he had no idea what awaited him. When he landed, thirty-three hours later, in Le Bourget field in Paris, over 150,000 people had gathered to greet him. From that moment on he was a public figure, and newly created forms of mass media gave Lindbergh a kind of fame that no public figure had seen before. When Lindbergh returned to the United States, President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) presented him with medals. Millionaire Harry Guggenheim (1890–1971) paid for Lindbergh to fly his plane on a three-month tour of the United States, where he visited 48 states and gave 149 speeches in 92 cities. He was the hero of dozens of parades. Crowds followed him wherever he went. Admirers copied his clothes; his flight started a fad of wearing leather jackets and loose aviator pants. A popular new fast dance was called the "Lindy hop," because it made the dancers feel like they were flying. Several U.S. toymakers made "Lucky Lindy" dolls that looked like Lindbergh. When he married Anne Morrow (1906–2001) in 1929, reporters in motorboats followed them on their honeymoon cruise. A shy person, Lindbergh tried to avoid media attention when he could. He refused many offers that could have led to more fame, such as an offer from American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951) of $500,000 to star in movies.
Lindbergh and Anne continued to fly and to speak in favor of aviation all over the world. People were enchanted by the beautiful young couple and followed their adventures closely. However, the Lindberghs' celebrity had tragic results. In March 1932 their twenty-month-old son, Charles III, was kidnapped, and his dead body was found ten days later. Lindbergh always blamed the constant focus of the press for drawing the kidnapper's attention to his family. The kidnapping and the trial that followed it in 1934 were huge media events, followed closely by people all over the world.
Trying to escape his own fame, Lindbergh spent several years in Europe. He visited Germany frequently, and Hermann Göring (1893–1946), a high Nazi official, presented him with a German medal of honor. When he came back he spoke out against the United States's involvement in World War II (1939–45). Many people thought his speeches were pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish, and Lindbergh's popularity fell dramatically. He did join in the war effort, in the Pacific, where he went as a civilian, or non-military, adviser and managed to fly fifty combat missions.
Lindbergh spent most of the rest of his life quietly with his family, though he continued to fly and to promote air travel. A lifelong inventor, he