[Working backward from the year 2000 toward America’s beginnings.]
Like John F. Kennedy later, Franklin Roosevelt was more than an American politician and statesman. Something in his demeanor and what he was thought to stand for caught people’s imagination. They invested hope in him. When he died, the crowds in England stood stunned, or wept, and felt as bereaved as if they had lost a member of their own family – and this was before television brought moving, talking images into the home. If they felt they knew Roosevelt, it was from the movie newsreels, and from the newspapers and radios, and from the feeling that they had that he had been the friend of the things they believed in, and had, therefore, been a friend to them. Wilson, as we shall see, was popular for a while, and the common people put their trust in him. But Roosevelt caught their imagination and their affection and their trust as no American had done since Lincoln, and none would do again until Kennedy, and perhaps Eisenhower.
For one thing, there was the spectacle of his fighting the good fight against the forces of reaction, as he set Congress to restructuring the American political landscape. Regulation of the stock market, of the banking industry, of monopolies, of so many aspects of what had been until then a comfortable club making its own rules to suit itself. And there was his personal struggle to overcome the polio that had struck him down before he was 40, turning a tall, athletic, vigorous young patrician into a wheelchair-bound cripple. He had fought his way back from paralysis, finding and developing Warm Springs, Georgia, as a hospital for the similarly afflicted. (Remember the March of Dimes? That was a Roosevelt conception, organized not only for research into the cure of polio but specifically to support Warm Springs.)
And, more than anything else, perhaps, Roosevelt was revered as the linchpin of American assistance to those fighting the Axis powers. Though he dared not intervene in Spain, he was soon intervening to the edge of the law and beyond it, to weaken Hitler and strengthen the Allies. Lend-Lease, American patrols of the Western Atlantic, the Atlantic Charter, and always his encouragement of coalitions of powers against the Nazis. No less than Churchill – and even more important, because leading the only country that could defeat Germany – he was the father figure many a European leaned on.
Another American icon appeared in the years before the war, before Roosevelt, before the Great Depression, while the twenties were still roaring. He was a shy, modest 25-year-old boy, and he electrified the world with one 33-hour-long feat of skill, luck and endurance.
A few months after the end of World War I, a man named Orteig had offered $25,000 to the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Eight years later, the Orteig prize remained unclaimed, but several people were racing to be the first. They were all well known except the boy.
In September, 1926, a three-engine biplane carrying a three-men team led by French World War I ace Rene Fonck crashed and burned on takeoff, killing the two crewmen. The following April, two famed U.S. Naval aviators, testing another three-engine biplane, died when their plane, too, crashed on takeoff. In early May, French war heroes Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli disappeared at sea on a westward flight from Paris in a seaplane.
Two weeks later, three more airplanes were preparing to fly east from Long Island. One was a two-man team led by American air racer Clarence Chamberlin, and the other was a four-man team led by Commander (later Rear Admiral) Richard Byrd. The third was not a team but a lone 25-year-old pilot who, the year before, had been flying the air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, and his airplane was a single-engine overhead-wing monoplane whose design and construction he had overseen during the winter.
He had much less flying experience than any of the others, none of it over water. He was financing the flight on a $15,000 bank loan, a $1,000 donation from his employer at Lambert Field, St. Louis, and his own small savings. He had had to teach himself great-circle navigation, because he was afraid that if he asked the military to teach him, he would be forbidden to make the attempt. In order to keep down inessential weight, he was flying without a radio. That meant that from eight a.m. May 20, 1927, all through the day and the long night and a good part of the next day, there was no way for the world to know if he was still alive and in the air, or had joined the six who had been killed in the weeks just past.
After that long night, he was spotted over the coast of Ireland, then over England, and then, at nearly 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, he landed at Le Bourget field in Paris, and he and his frail craft were overrun by a hysterically welcoming mob estimated at 150,000 people. The effect his successful flight produced was perhaps proportional to the anxiety caused by the long night – and the dead airmen who had preceded him.
The French Foreign Office flew the American flag for him, President Coolidge sent a Navy cruiser to bring him and his airplane home. The Post Office issued an Air Mail stamp in his honor. He was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City. He was Time magazine’s first “Man of the Year.” His book We, published within months, sold 650,000 copies within a year, earning him a quarter of a million dollars. The boy his friends had always called Slim was being called Lucky Lindy, and The Lone Eagle.
His influence on aviation was phenomenal. Applications for pilot’s licenses in the U.S. tripled. The number of licensed aircraft quadrupled. The number of airline passengers grew 3,000%, to 173,405 in 1929, from 5,782 in 1926. Aviatrix Elinor Smith Sullivan later said that Lindbergh’s flight changed aviation forever because “after Lindbergh, suddenly everyone wanted to fly, and there weren’t enough planes to carry them.”
For more – much more — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Lindbergh
Oh, and those other two teams that we left on Long Island waiting to fly? Chamberlain made it from New York to Germany in a 43 hour flight two weeks later. Byrd and his team left on June 29, reached Paris on July 1, and, being unable to land there due to weather conditions, wound up ditching in the ocean off Normandy. They both succeeded in making the crossing, and they did it within weeks of Lindbergh’s solo flight. But it didn’t matter. That flight – and something in his winning personality — made Charles A. Lindbergh into an icon, not only in his own country but all through Europe and around the world. And that fame lasted. More than 25 years later, he won a Pulitzer Price with The Spirit of St. Louis, which, among other things, told of his out-of-body experience and spiritual contacts during that long night over the North Atlantic.