Amelia Earhart: Pilot, Pioneer, Philatelist?

One of her many passions was stamp collecting and her creative a use of air mail helped fund her adventures

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Smithsonian National Postal Museum

8c Amelia Earhart stamp (1963-07-24)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) is perhaps the most famous female pilot in American history. Among her many ‘firsts,’ her solo flights across the Atlantic and across the North American continent brought her stardom.

She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress for her transatlantic flight. In addition to her prolific career in flight, Amelia served as a nurse during World War I and as a women’s career counselor at Purdue University.

A true feminist, she believed in equal opportunities for women and through her achievements, became an inspiration for girls everywhere.

Amelia Earhart's flight suit ("circa 1920") by Arnold, Constable & CompanySmithsonian's National Postal Museum

When Amelia mysteriously disappeared during her 1937 attempt to fly around the world, the nation mourned her loss.

Amelia Earhart's solo transatlantic mail (1932-05-21) by Amelia EarhartSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

On May 20-21, 1932, Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, flying between Newfoundland and Ireland

The feat ensured her not only worldwide acclaim, but a place in the annals of aviation history. She set speed and women’s distance records.

On the flight Earhart carried fifty pieces of “unofficial” mail (the flight was not authorized by the post office), each postmarked before...

...and after landing...

...cacheted, numbered...

..and autographed to document the historic event.

Cover carried on the First Female Trans-Atlantic Flight (1928-06-28) by Amelia EarhartSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Philately supported Earhart’s career in a variety of ways.

This cover was carried across the Atlantic on a flight one month later.

The sale of her flown philatelic souvenirs helped offset the expenses of her aeronautic adventures and further ensured her legacy in aerophilately.

Friendship Flyers Cover and InvitationSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Amelia Earhart enjoyed celebrity status worldwide. She captured the public’s imagination as an exceptional woman who broke barriers not only in the air but also as a role model for women in America.

She reached an astonishing number of milestones during her brief career. She began breaking flight records in 1922, the year after she bought her first plane, by flying to 14,000 feet and thereby shattering the women’s altitude record.

In 1928 she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic eastbound, but as a passenger, not a pilot. She and the co-pilots became known as the "Friendship Fliers".

For these and other accomplishments, she was awarded the Cross of Honor of the United States Flag Association.

Mexico-New York flight cover signed by Amelia Earhart (1935-05-08/1935-05-09)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Mexico honored Earhart by overprinting one of its airmail stamps with “Amelia Earhart Vuelo de Buena Voluntad Mexico 1935” (Amelia Earhart Flight of Good Will Mexico 1935) to commemorate her 1935 Mexico City visit. Immediately after printing, the plates were destroyed.

Four hundred eighty of the 780 stamps were sent with the additional overprint “Muestra” (Specimen) to the Universal Postal Union for distribution to postal administrations worldwide.

This action defined the Earhart overprint as a legitimate stamp despite the outcries of some philatelists who claimed that it was not created for postal purposes.

About one hundred of the remaining three hundred stamps were used on the mail carried by Earhart to New York City (some in blocks of four).

Earhart autographed this registered envelope, addressed to her husband, George Palmer Putnam, a publisher in New York City.

20c Eagle Man stamp with Earhart overprint (1935-04-16)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Ten unused stamps were distributed to diplomats, and the remaining examples were sold to local collectors and the public.

This stamp remains a rare and desirable item both unused and on flown mail.

Credits: Story

Based on Amelia Earhart Solo Transatlantic Mail
Written by Cheryl R. Ganz

Design by
Marc Bretzfelder
Emerging Media Producer
Smithsonian Office of the Chief Information Officer

Visit Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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