Today in Transportation History – 1912: The First Woman to Fly Across the English Channel

Aviation pioneer Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. The Michigan-born pilot departed Dover, England, for Calais, France, in a monoplane that she had never flown before and with a compass she had just recently learned to use.

Quimby, despite those challenges as well as thick fog that limited visibility up in the skies, completed her flight in only 59 minutes. While Calais was her planned destination, she ended up landing instead approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the south of that French town on a beach at the commune of Équihen-Plage. Upon landing there, Quimby was welcomed with great fanfare by local residents. “I was not a bit nervous,” she nonchalantly explained in an interview with the New York Times. “The trip was just as easy as sitting at home in an armchair, and I never had any doubts of my success.”

In general, Quimby’s trailblazing accomplishment received relatively little press coverage because of the Titanic disaster that had just occurred and was then commanding attention worldwide. Quimby died that July when she lost control of her plane at a flying exhibition near Quincy, Massachusetts. She was only 37.

While Quimby’s aviation career lasted a mere 11 months altogether, she nonetheless distinguished herself within that brief span of time both through her historic if underappreciated flight across the English Channel and as the first American female to acquire a pilot’s license in the United States. “Her name is added to the long list of those who have freely given their lives in order that the world might be larger and better, in order that life might be greater and grander,” eulogized the Reverend James B. Wasson at her funeral service in New York City.

In 1991, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative airmail stamp featuring an image of Quimby. She was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004.

(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

For more information on Harriet Quimby, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Quimby and the 28 April 1991 Chicago Tribune article “Stamp Honors First Woman License Pilot at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/Harriet_Quimby_Stamp

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