Ruth Elder (1902-1977)

elder_1_200.jpg Ruth Elder
by Henry M. Holden, © 1997, 2001 Black Hawk Publishing

Ruth Elder (b: 8 September 1902, Anniston, Alabama, d: 9 October 1977, San Francisco, California) was a twenty-three year old, some-time actress when she heard of "Lucky Lindy's" flight from New York, to Paris.

She made up her mind that she would be the first "Lady Lindy," the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Her stage critics and others immediately held her in ridicule when she made her announcement.

Some called her proposed flight a publicity stunt, prompted by Lindbergh's success and designed to help her acting career. In part, they were probably right. The publicity generated by her announcement was good exposure for her career.


Ruth Elder plays 'Vivian Marshall', Paramont Pictures, 1928

However, it was more than that. Elder was out to prove that a woman was equal to a man. It was that simple. The ocean crossing that lay ahead of her was far from simple, however.


Ruth Elder, early 1927?

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Ruth Elder, early 1927?

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Ruth Elder, early 1927?

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Ruth Elder was a very deliberate person. In plotting her routes, she made doubly sure to avoid the worst of the Atlantic storms. However, that was not good enough. In her headlong approach to this goal, she ignored some basic advice: to avoid the North Atlantic in winter.

Sure, Lindbergh succeeded, but perhaps he was lucky. Everyone before him tried and failed. Elder's backers urged her to wait until spring, but other women were preparing to attempt the flight also. She did not want to lose out to one of them; she tasted the victory. She was going to be the first.


Ruth Elder and her airplane 'American Girl' a Stinson Detroiter

Elder chose a Stinson 'Detroiter' airplane. It had been proven for its ability in long distance flying. She called it the 'American Girl'. "Looking back," she said, "perhaps my drive to succeed clouded my judgment. The weather was awful. My choice of copilot, George Halderman, was as deliberate as my choice of airplane. He was one of the best pilots of the day." ...more

Ruth Elder : Ephemera

A draft of a celebration announcement to be received in Europe. The final form flew with Elder and perished during her plane's rescue. The ill-fated trip was to have noted her as the first woman to fly transatlantic.


Typed Statement signed in upper left: "Ruth Elder"

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Typed Statement signed in upper left: "Ruth Elder", 1p, 81/2x11. No date, but 1927. Headed: "A Message of Thanks to the Manufacturers/and Couturiers of Europe and of America."

In part:

"This message from Arnold Constable & Company, New York department store now celebrating its 100th anniversary, was carried by Miss Ruth Elder, first woman to fly across the Atlantic, and sent through her by this newspaper for publication immediately upon landing. It is, of course, the first advertisement ever distributed overseas by airplane. Arnold, Constable & Company, of New York, extends publicly through this advertisement, published simultaneously in London, Paris, Berlin and New York, its heartfelt thanks to the manufacturers and couturiers of Europe and America who have so splendidly cooperated in making our Centennial celebration a success...."

Unfortunately, aviatrix Ruth Elder was the first woman to attempt a flight from the United States to Europe, not the first woman to make it.

In October 1927, Elder and Captain George Haldeman (pilot) took off from Roosevelt Field for Paris. Weather forced them to land on the ocean after a flight of 2,623 miles. Ruth Elder spent nine hours at the controls. They were rescued by a Dutch oil tanker. As their plane was being hoisted on deck, it caught fire and was totally destroyed.

As Elder's plane burned, all the airmail carried aboard was also lost, including all the messages sent to Europe. Because there are penciled corrections on this statement, this seems to be the final draft of the messages that were actually carried by Elder on her ill-fated flight. No doubt she signed this after her return to New York as a souvenir for someone at Arnold, Constable & Co.

The Failed Atlantic Attempt in Pictures


Ruth Elder and co-pilot Captain George Haldeman, Oct., 1927


Elder and Haldeman's Stinson monoplane, Oct., 1927

Workers at Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York ready Haldeman and Elder's Stinson monoplane, the "American Girl," for an attempt at a transatlantic flight on October 11, 1927. The two were forced to ditch the American Girl in the Atlantic 300 miles from their after it had developed an oil leak.


Ruth Elder and her Stinson monoplane, Oct., 1927

Moolman, Valerie, Women Aloft, Time Life, 1981

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Ruth Elder and co-pilot Captain George Haldeman, Oct., 1927

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Lakeland's aviation history formally began with nationally known aviator and native son, George Haldeman. Haldeman was a pilot and flight instructor who, in the mid-1920's, established a small airfield on family owned land in Gibsonia, just north of Lakeland. Here, Haldeman and his brother Walter trained a number of would-be pilots, including young Ruth Elder. In the fall of 1927, George Haldeman and Elder attempted a transatlantic flight five months after Charles Lindbergh had soloed across the Atlantic.

Had the flight been successful, Elder would have been the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, bad weather and a leaking oil line forced the two to ditch in the Atlantic 300 miles short of their goal. They were rescued by a passing ship and, although they had been unsuccessful, they were treated as national and international heroes. They were even accorded the ultimate hero's welcome, a tickertape parade through the streets of New York City.


Elder and Haldeman try out their 'unsinkable' suits, 13 Oct., 1927

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Elder and Haldeman try out their 'unsinkable' suits, 13 Oct., 1927

Moolman, Valerie, Women Aloft, Time Life, 1981

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Ruth Elder, 'American Girl' Promotional Postcard


Ruth Elder, ready to fly, presumably Oct., 1927


Ruth Elder and George Haldeman presumed lost at sea

Los Angeles Evening Herald, Oct 12, 1927

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"Ruth Elder Rescued after Plane Falls in Sea"
"Flames Destroy Flying Craft As Aviators Escape"

Detroit Free Press, October 14, 1927


Elder (c) and Haldeman (far l) on board their rescue ship, the 'Barendrecht', Lisbon, Nov., 1, 1927

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Ruth Elder and George Haldeman

Ruth Elder (carrying flowers) and George Haldeman (to Elder's immediate right) of Lakeland descend the stairs of City Hall in New York enroute to a tickertape parade in their honor in 1927.

New York City mayor Jimmy Walker is to Elder's left. Haldeman and Elder had attempted to become the first male-female team to fly across the Atlantic in October 1927. They had to ditch in the Atlantic 300 miles short of their goal when an oil line on the plane began leaking. They were honored for having flown more than 2600 miles nonstop.


Elder (c) with her parents, Anniston Alabama, Dec., 22, 1927

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