Harriet Quimby was born May 11, 1875 in Arcadia, Michigan.
Her family then moved to San Francisco when she was a teenager.
Harriet became interested in journalism and moved to New York City in 1903 to work as a theater critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.
Over the next nine years, she would write over 250 articles for the publication.
By 1910, Harriet had become interested in aviation and attended the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament on Long Island and became friends with John Moisant and his sister Matilde. John was a well known aviator and operator of a flight school at the time.
In 1911, seven screenplays she had written were made into silent film shorts by director D.W. Griffith.
Then on August 1, 1911, Harriet became the first licensed female pilot in the United States when she passed her flight test and was awarded her aviator’s certificate by the Aero Club of America.
As the first female pilot in the United States, Harriet became a major influence upon the role of women in aviation.
So much so, that when aviator Calbraith Perry Rodgers died on April 3, 1912 from a crash while on an exhibition flight for Vin Fiz grape soda, the Vin Fiz division of Armour Meat Packing recruited Harriet to take his place as their spokesperson. (see my article on Mr. Rodgers from December 10, 2012)
Harriet was then sent to England and asked to become the first female pilot to attempt a flight across the English Channel.
Vin Fiz outfitted her in a distinctive purple aviatrix uniform and placed her in ads across Europe as well as the United States.
English Channel Flight
Harriet’s flight was scheduled for April 16, 1912. If that year and month sound at all familiar to you, it should.
The evening before her scheduled attempt to fly across the English Channel, the RMS Titanic stuck an iceberg and sank consuming all the media attention that day.
She took off from Dover, England anyway, en route to Calais, France in her Blériot.
The Blériot was one of the latest models of military monoplanes.
Harriet Quimby landed 59 minutes later on a beach in Hardelot-Plage, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.
She had come down some 25 miles short of Calais, but as she did land in France and not the channel, Harriet Quimby thus became the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the English Channel.
After arriving back in the United States with little attention, Harriet decided to fly in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts.
During the event on July 1, 1912, Harriet invited William Willard (the organizer of the event and father of aviator Charles Willard) to join her in a short 20 minute flight out to Boston Light in the Boston Harbor and back as a way to entertain the crowd and draw attention to the Airshow.
Harriet took off in her brand new two seat Blériot, rose to about 3,000 feet and leveled off.
Upon returning from Boston Light some 20 minutes later, Harriet began to circle the airfield for the crowd of spectators and dropped down to about 1,500 feet when the monoplane unexpectedly pitched forward.
Both Harriet and Charles were ejected from their seats and fell to their deaths into Dorchester Bay some 20 feet from shore as the monoplane “glided down and lodged itself in the mud,” as reported the next day in the newspaper.
Harriet Quimby was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
The following year her remains were moved to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
Now WE know em