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Harriet Quimby Harriet Quimby in her Bleriot Monoplane. Photo from George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

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Headlines from Anglo-American History: Harriet Quimby
April 16, 1912, An American Became the First Woman to Fly Solo Across the English Channel

Published on April 16, 2019

Harry Truman once said that "There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know". In the first of a new series of articles for TheAmerican.co.uk - we're going to take a look at some of the Headlines from Anglo-American History that you may not know about. Today, April 16, we start with the story of Harriet Quimby.

You'd be forgiven for not knowing the name of Harriet Quimby, or the incredible achievement she made on this day 107 years ago. Most newspaper headlines on the morning of April 16, 1912, were reflecting on the tragic sinking of the Titanic, which had taken place in the icy waters of the North Atlantic the previous day. Quimby was making headlines over a different body of water - the English Channel. Setting off from Dover, England in a Bleriot Monoplane, Quimby became the first unaccompanied female pilot to cross the English Channel. She landed around an hour later on French soil.

Quimby was born in Michigan, in 1875. In the early 1900s, she persued a career in journalism. In a since archived blog post for the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), Jill Tallman explained that "Quimby was writing for something called Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1910 when the magazine published an article promoting an upcoming international 'air meet' at Belmont Park in New York. She went, watched the pilots, decided that flying didn’t look too difficult, and started taking lessons. On Aug. 1, 1911, she became the first US licensed female pilot."

The National Aviation Hall of Fame has a profile of Quimby, which explains that upon earning her license, she "joined an exhibition group and began competing in a variety of meets. She became close friends with the second American woman to earn a pilot’s license, Matilde Moisant ... Less than a month after earning her pilot’s license, Harriet had already won her first cross-country race with the accompanying $600 purse. On September 04th, 1911 at the Richmond County Fair and before 15,000 people Quimby became the first woman to fly an aeroplane at night. She collected the handsome sum of $1500 for her 7 minute night flight.

Her crossing of the English Channel took place in April 16, 1912. Covering the story of her achievement, Flight magazine wrote that "Although Miss Harriet Quimby has made an enviable reputation for herself as a capable pilot in America, her native country, she has not been very well-known on this side of the Atlantic ... Contrary to what one would expect, the feat was carried through without any fuss or elaborate preparations ... Dover Castle was passed at a height of 1,500 feet, and by the time the machine was over the sea, it was at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. Guided solely by compass, Miss Quimby arrived above the Grisnez Lighthouse a little under an hour later, and making her way towards Boulogne she came down at Equihen ... not far from the Bleriot sheds."

A remarkable accomplishment and an American who became the first woman to conquer the English Channel by air - not a bad headline to remember 107 years later!


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