Friday, July 30, 2021

Lucky Lindy Visits Schenectady Airport as Part of National Tour

This post was written by library volunteer Diane Leone.

Photo of Charles Lindbergh wearing flight jacket and smiling for the camera
Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. (1927), photo by Underwood & Underwood. National Portrait Gallery.

Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris ranks as one of the greatest achievements in the annals of aviation history. Following this feat, Long Island multimillionaire Harry Guggenheim convinced the aviator to embark on a three-month tour of the United States in his famous Spirit of St. Louis, in an effort to boost the newly developing field of aviation. The trip, financed by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics (named after Harry’s father), began on July 20, 1927 at Long Island’s Mitchel Field and ended on October 23 at the same location. In the end, Lindbergh visited 92 cities in 48 states. Schenectady was fortunate to be included in that roster.

The still unfinished Schenectady Airport, a visible symbol of the growing interest in aviation, was the perfect location for this highly anticipated event.  Only months before, on February 9, the city’s chamber of commerce optioned land for the facility, which was to be funded by interested citizens. Within one week of the June fund drive the considerable sum of $121,000 was raised for the project, promoted in part by a highly visible billboard in the area of Erie Boulevard announcing that “Lindbergh made his goal . . . so can Schenectady.” Construction followed, with the official airport opening occurring on May 26, 1928, ten months after Lindbergh’s visit. Schenectady was the first American city to boast a community-owned airport, now owned by the county.


Lindbergh posing before "Spirit of St. Louis," hangar 16, Curtiss Field (Long Island), May 1927. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, NY.

Lucky Lindy’s stop in Schenectady followed a number of stops in the New England states as well as Albany.  On July 28, he flew from the New York State capital to Schenectady, detouring up the Hudson, and passing over Troy, Glens Falls and Lake George, before circling back to the Electric City and landing one hour and forty-five minutes after leaving Albany. Preceding the aviator’s highly anticipated visit was his escort plane, arriving at 11:30 am. Ten minutes later, the Spirit of St. Louis approached from the east, looping back over part of the city’s commercial district before arriving at the airport. As the aviator neared the field, the Schenectady Gazette reported that he thrilled the exuberant crowd before landing:

He greeted the waiting multitude with a beautiful executed “zoom” which thrilled everyone. Gliding his plane to within 250 feet of the field he suddenly nosed upwards and raced almost straight into the air for a thousand or more feet. Then he circled, banked, dove and finally glided gracefully down the field to where the reception committee was waiting to extend him an official greeting ("Heroic Flier's Reception” 1).


The city’s leaders had prepared extensively for this event. Almost all city offices closed from 10am to 2pm, and many businesses allowed their employees time to enjoy the occasion. Automobile and pedestrian traffic was directed by a contingent of police, state troopers, National Guard ,and local Officers’ Reserve Corps. In an effort to reach a wide audience, the speeches were broadcast through the WGY radio station. A Schenectady Gazette loudspeaker on State Street transmitted the reception to the downtown area. 


In spite of the sweltering heat, the event attracted a crowd of approximately 25,000 people, streaming in on foot and by car, all eager to see the world-renowned aviator with boyish good looks. As Lindbergh exited his aircraft, clad in an aviator helmet, goggles, and a leather jacket worn over a suit and tie, he was welcomed by several local dignitaries, including some from neighboring cities and towns. Schenectady mayor Alexander T. Blessing opened with a welcoming address, followed by short speeches given by Martin P. Rice, director of publicity and broadcasting for General Electric, and John F. Horman, Schenectady Chamber of Commerce president. Rice spoke about the pivotal role of the city in the fields of transportation and communication, and emphasized the importance of electrical power to the future of aviation. Horman spoke proudly of the city’s airport, expressing his determination to make it a class A facility as defined by the Department of Commerce, and transform it into a regional hub. In fact, he noted that Colonel Lindbergh chose Schenectady as a stopping point “because he knew and recognized that our city is air-minded and alive to the possibilities of commercial aviation, because our citizens have established and own this airport, and that he wanted to congratulate our city in consequence” ("Address of Welcome" 16).

Charles Lindbergh speaks on WGY radio from the Schenectady County Airport, photo by General Electric Company. miSci-Museum of Science and Innovation.

Lindbergh’s speech focused on the need for the US to develop commercial aviation, which required the confidence of the public. He went on to list the four criteria needed to establish that confidence as “airworthy aircraft, adequately maintained; competent pilots; suitably equipped airways and airports; standard air traffic rules” ("Address of Welcome" 16).


Following the addresses, the colonel, standing in the rear of a truck adorned with an American flag, was driven around the field, often saluting in response to the cheers and blaring automobile horns of a wildly exuberant crowd. He then engaged in a fifteen-minute round of hand-shaking and autographing items for the public. Lindbergh also examined specifications for the development of Schenectady’s new airport. During his brief visit, he paid tribute to the city’s contribution to commercial aviation: “Plans for the development of your port are magnificent and now that you are started in the right direction you people here in Schenectady should get behind this airport and make it a prominent place on the airmap. The greatest need in the development of commercial aviation is the setting up of ports such as you have here in Schenectady” (Heroic Flier’s Reception” 1).

The tour’s tightly packed schedule had Lindbergh leaving after about a half hour, heading for Syracuse via the cities of Utica, Little Falls and Rome. Upon departure, Lindbergh once again entertained the crowd with several aerial maneuvers.

Other famous aviators also landed at the airport, including Amelia Earhart, who touched down on March 27, 1929 and gave a radio address on WGY. A little more than two years later Harold Gatty and Wiley Post, who had recently smashed the previous record in an around-the-world flight, were honored by GE after landing their Winnie Mae.

Gatty and Post's plane, Winnie Mae, at the Schenectady Airport. Photo from the Larry Hart Collection, Grems-Doolittle Library.

Having achieved enduring fame as a daring and skilled aviator, Lindbergh later became indelibly linked to the tragic kidnapping and murder of his young son. Perhaps lesser known are his isolationist views prior to World War II, as well as his antisemitism.  In 1927, however, he was America’s golden boy. As Lindbergh living history performer Tim Clark notes, “He came along at an interesting time when the country was looking for a hero. He displayed all the values you want to see in your hero: modesty, courage, sacrifice, and he did all for the advancement of aviation” (Buell).

Lindbergh’s Guggenheim Tour had a significant impact on aviation.  According to Richard P. Hallion, an Air Force historian who wrote a book on the Guggenheims, the use of airmail increased dramatically, as did the public’s perception of the feasibility of air travel. Locally, the visit helped raise funds for the completion of the airport. Bud Matthews, former president of the Empire State Aerosciences Museum, noted that “there were a lot of airports being built in the U.S. around that time. His [Lindbergh’s] visit really helped put Schenectady on the map” (Buell).

For those interested, the Grems-Doolittle Library owns a DVD (DVD Hart 974.744 Fir Ref) which includes brief highlights of this historic event.

Lindbergh, wearing a pilot's flight helmet and overcoat, shakes hands with a man wearing a suit
Lindbergh and Mayor Blessing. Photo from the Larry Hart Collection, Grems-Doolittle Library.

Works Consulted

"Address of Welcome, Speeches to Inform Lindbergh of Airport Here, Flier's Account of Progress in Air." Schenectady Gazette, 29 July 1927, p. 16.

Buell, Bill. "Schenectady County Airport Marks Lindbergh Visit in 1927." Daily Gazette [Schenectady], 23 July 2017.

"Gazette Speaker to Broadcast Sound of Lindbergh Reception." Schenectady Gazette, 28 July 1927, p. 1.

"Guggenheim Tour—48 States, Visited 92 Cities,..." Charles Lindbergh: An American Aviator, Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project, 2014.

Hart, Larry. "Schenectady Caught Aeroplane Fever in 192...and Built Port Schenectady." Schenectady Gazette, 15 Oct. 1971, p. 25.

"Heroic Flier's Reception Here Equals That Given by Other Cities on Route." Schenectady Gazette, 29 July 1927, p. 1.

"Lindbergh in This City Today, Police Plan to Handle a Huge Throng at the New Airport." Schenectady Gazette, 28 July 1927, p. 1.

Wilkin, Jeff. "Lifestyles." Daily Gazette [Schenectady], 25 July 2002, pp. D-01. NewsBank