Harriet Quimby and the Age of Aeronautics

Harriet Quimby, c. 1911.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Harriet Quimby, c. 1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

This candid photograph of Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) in the cockpit of a plane fascinates me.  Not only is this an early example of a plane, but it’s also an example of a woman pilot.  She wasn’t the first woman pilot, but she blazed a trail, allowing other women the opportunity.

Early in Harriet’s life, she took to racing cars, and her love for speed helped forge her friendship with John Moisant, ‘King of the Aviators.’  As an editor for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, she finagled her editor to pay for her lessons with Moisant, detailing her experiences in the journal.

 

Harriet Quimby, in the cockpit of her Bleriot XI.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Harriet Quimby, in the cockpit of her Bleriot XI. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

Quimby continued lessons after Moisant died in a plane crash in 1910, being the first woman to gain a pilot’s license in the United States.  She joined the exhibition circuits, illustrating her love for flight in Bleriot Monoplane and her custom silk flying suit.

 

Bleriot IX Monoplane design

Bleriot XI Monoplane design

 

In April 1912, she became the first woman to fly the English Channel, coining her ‘America’s First Lady of the Air.’ Her fame was short lived, however, as she crashed over the Boston Harbor during an exhibition in July 1912.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame beautifully states why Harriet Quimby is important in aeronautical history:

Harriet Quimby blazed the trail and followed it with passion and conviction. She willingly assumed the risks and earnestly told a nation that aviation was not a passing fad, but that it would change the world. In so doing, Harriet Quimby changed the world. For her lasting impact on aviation and aviators, Harriet Quimby is enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Both of these photographs of Harriet are so cool.  I love seeing the detail of the plane in each, especially the close up of her in the metal chair. It’s hard to imagine anyone not being scared to fly in that small of a contraption!

Further Reading:

EyeWitness to History. “First Woman to Fly the English Channel, 1912,” EyeWitness to History. 2002. Web. 22 July 2014 http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/quimby.htm

National Aviation Hall of Fame. .Harriet Quimby.’ National Aviation Hall of Fame. 22 July 2014. Web. 22 July 2014 http://nationalaviation.org/quimby-harriet/

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Filed under 1910s, Photograph

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