Vancouver Sun


Eight months before Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly non- stop over the Atlantic, Ruth Elder made the same attempt and failed.

- JOHN MACKIE jmackie@vancouvers­

On June 17, 1928, Amelia Earhart became the fi rst woman to fl y non- stop over the Atlantic. But she wasn’t the fi rst to make the attempt. Eight months earlier, Ruth Elder took off from Roosevelt Field in New York with co- pilot George Halderman in a Stinson Detroiter plane she dubbed the “American Girl.” Her destinatio­n was Paris, 5,800 kilometres away. The fl ight came only fi ve months after Charles Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. Elder’s fl ight was front- page news around the world, including Vancouver. But the news wasn’t good. On Oct. 12, 1927, the Sun’s banner headline was “MOTHER COLLAPSES WHILE GIRL AVIATRIX IS BATTLING ATLANTIC.” The accompanyi­ng story said that the mother of the “intrepid aviatrix” had “fought for weeks to dissuade her from the venture,” and suff ered a nervous breakdown “when she learned Ruth had hopped off .” Fears for Elder’s safety were also expressed by meteorolog­ist Dr. James Kimball, who had “mapped out the fl ying course which the trans- Atlantic fl yers were to follow.” Kimball said the American Girl was “due to encounter strong cross winds and a storm of considerab­le intensity” in the middle of the Atlantic. “While this storm, which they cannot evade, would not seriously inconvenie­nce a steamship, it is of sufficient intensity to cause grave anxiety for the welfare of anything as fl imsy as an airplane,” said Kimball. The American Girl made it through the storm, but a broken oil line forced the plane down about 500 km short of the Azores islands, which are about 1,300 km off Portugal. “RUTH ELDER PLANE COMES DOWN AT SEA; SHIP RESCUES AVIATORS,” screamed the Sun’s front- page headline on Oct. 13. Elder and Halderman were picked up by the Dutch freighter Barendrech­t. Unfortunat­ely, the American Girl’s engine caught fi re when the crew tried to haul the plane aboard, and it was destroyed. That wasn’t the only bad news. The Sun reported that Elder had a $ 250,000 contract with a “motion picture fi rm” that was nullified because she hadn’t made it across the Atlantic. The public had mixed feelings about Elder’s ill- fated fl ight. “Ruth Elder may be a heroine to millions today,” the Sun reported on Oct. 14, “but to some U. S. women she was ‘ very foolish’ to risk her life in the trans- Atlantic fl ight, and of ‘ much less service to humanity than a good typist.’ “While conceding the courage of the pretty Florida aviatrix, Dr. Katherine K. Davis, sociologis­t, called her venture ‘ a mistaken thing for a young girl to do.’” Foolish or not, the trans- Atlantic fl ight had made the 23- year- old famous. She and Halderman were given a tickertape parade in New York, and she went to Hollywood to star in a movie, Moran of the Marines, opposite the rugged Richard Dix. She soon returned to fl ying, however, fi nishing fi fth in a trans- continenta­l women’s air race nicknamed the “Powder Puff Derby” in 1929. Amelia Earhart fi nished third in the same race. The flamboyant Elder would marry six times, and married her last husband twice. She died in San Francisco in 1977, at the age of 73. In other Oct. 1927 news, “a pretty 18- year- old Vancouver girl” named Christine Inglis sued the Fleishmann company after Fleishmann used her in an ad campaign extolling the “recuperati­ve properties” of the company’s yeast cakes. In the ad, Inglis was pictured in a bathing suit, stating Fleishmann’s yeast cakes had cleared up her skin. This came as a surprise to Inglis, who testifi ed “she had never had any kind of skin trouble, never knowingly ( given) any testimonia­l, and at the time her picture was taken did not know for what purpose it was snapped.”

 ??  ?? The Vancouver Sun on Oct. 13, 1927 detailed Ruth Elder’s forced landing on the ocean, the rescue by a Dutch freighter and the loss of $ 250,000 promised by a ‘ motion picture fi rm’ if she had succeeded.
The Vancouver Sun on Oct. 13, 1927 detailed Ruth Elder’s forced landing on the ocean, the rescue by a Dutch freighter and the loss of $ 250,000 promised by a ‘ motion picture fi rm’ if she had succeeded.

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