Amelia Earhart and Iowa History
Many remember Amelia Earhart for her incredible legacy in aviation. One of her early encounters with an airplane is believed to have occurred during World War I, when “she served as a Red Cross nurse’s aid in Toronto, Canada” (History.com Editors). There, she watched aviators training as part of the Royal Flying Corps, and her passion for flying grew. Her very first plane ride as a passenger further sealed the deal for her, and she soon began flying lessons (History.com Editors). Amelia’s first time crossing the Atlantic by plane was as a passenger, but she soon became the pilot–becoming the first woman to ever fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean–in 1932 (Michals).
A truly inspiring figure, Amelia Earhart performed admirable feats previously deemed impossible. Many of us might not have considered when, aside from her very first plane rides and experiences during the war, Amelia’s earliest exposure to the airplane occurred. Fascinatingly, it turns out to be likely that Amelia Earhart saw her very first airplane as a child at an event many Iowans have attended and continue to attend each summer, an event renowned today for its funnel cake, live music, and giant yellow-green slide: the Iowa State Fair.
Amelia Earhart lived in Iowa for a time as a child (Michals). In Des Moines, Amelia and her family were often on the move. She lived in five different homes in Des Moines over the span of the few years she was there (“Amelia Earhart: A Des Moines Connection”). Her time in Iowa set the stage for what was believed to be her first airplane sighting.
Amelia’s very first glimpse of an airplane at the fair wasn’t as inspiring to her as we might expect; in fact, she seemed thoroughly unfazed. Her later description of the plane included the words: “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting” (“Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937”). Her initial reaction seems humorous when we consider the astounding accomplishment she has had in aviation, and it’s incredible to think how her perspective remarkably changed since her first sight of an airplane at one of Iowa’s traditional events.
“Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937.” PBS, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/earhart-timeline/.
“Amelia Earhart: A Des Moines Connection.” Pieces of Iowa’s Past, Legislative Services Agency, 20 February 2019, https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/TB/1037670.pdf.
History.com Editors. “Amelia Earhart”. HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, published 9 November 2009, last updated 16 March 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/amelia-earhart.
Michals, Debra. “Amelia Earhart.” National Women’s History Museum. National Women’s History Museum, 2015. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/amelia-earhart.