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Western New York, Amelia Earhart and Jell-O

Amelia Earhart's first trip over the Atlantic had WNY roots.

blog by Ben Kirst  • 

Amelia Earhart—the famous female aviator to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932—was born 115 years ago today in Atchison, Kansas. Earhart is probably best remembered today for her attempt to fly around the world in 1937 (a journey she didn’t complete, disappearing mysteriously in the Pacific), but she was truly one of the amazing characters of the first half of the 20th century—Earhart set the bar high for future female fliers, collecting a bucketful of women’s records for altitude, speed and distance throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Her presumed death (presumed because a number of conspiracy theories, including capture by the Japanese or the assumption of a phony identity) was terrible loss for America and the world.

Earhart, however, has a fascinating connection to Western New York. Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, joining the crew of a 1928 flight in a Fokker F.VIIb named “Friendship.” The plane was provided by millionaire Donald Woodward, a member of the Woodwards of LeRoy, N.Y., manufacturers of a shockingly popular new dessert called Jell-O.

Pete Gallivan of WGRZ-TV put together a highly entertaining piece about this interesting relationship this past February:


Earhart made a side trip to LeRoy while visiting Rochester in January 24, 1929 to see the “Friendship” once again. Woodward, who had built LeRoy’s first airport and popularized with a series of fly-ins from other well-known aviators, died in the 1940s and his airfield was decommissioned soon after. For a brief, shining moment, LeRoy was one of the hubs of flight in the United States. Here’s a photo of how it looked in its 1930s heyday:

Woodward air field

You can still kind of see where the runways were from the air. The hanger is used by the LeRoy Department of Public Works.

Current Woodward air field

And finally, here is a photo of the “Friendship” flying out of Boston en route to Southampton, England, provided by the Boston Public Library. Amelia Earhart is inside that plane! Kind of ghostly in retrospect.

Amelia Earhart's Fokker

Happy birthday, Amelia Earhart, wherever you are.



TAGGED: aviation, donald woodward, famous women, jell-o, legends, leroy

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