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Amelia Earhart and Richard E. Byrd—Aviation Pioneers in Signed Group Photo
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This original black-and-white photograph pictures four aviation pioneers shortly before Byrd presented an Explorer’s Club flag that he carried to the South Pole to George P. Putnam (1887-1950), the Vice President of the Explorers’ Club and Amelia Earhart’s future husband. The Club was a men’s-only organization, which prompted Earhart to join the Society of Women Geographers.

From 1928 to 1930, Richard E. Byrd led his first expedition to the Antarctic, involving two ships and three airplanes. The participants constructed a base camp called “Little America” on the Ross Ice Shelf and began scientific expeditions. Among the participants was a 19-year-old Boy Scout, Paul A. Siple, who had been chosen to accompany the expedition. Among the achievements of the two-year expedition was the first flight to the South Pole in November 1929, piloted by Bernt Balchen. As a result, Congress promoted Byrd to the rank of rear admiral, making him the youngest admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy at age 41. Byrd would go on to lead four more Antarctic expeditions between 1934 and 1956.

In July 1930, publisher George P. Putnam gave a luncheon for Byrd at the Barbizon-Plaza hotel in New York City. Putnam used it as the occasion to announce several forthcoming books by members of the expedition, including Byrd’s book Little America, Paul Siple’s volume A Boy Scout with Byrd, New York Times reporter Russell Owen’s book entitled South of the Sun, and a four-volume set describing the scientific findings of the expedition. At the luncheon, Byrd presented Putnam with a flag of the Explorers’ Club, which he had carried to the Antarctic. Putnam stated that the flag would have a place in the clubhouse with trophies of Peary, Amundsen, and other explorers. In addition to the aviation pioneers Amelia Earhart and Clarence D. Chamberlin, other guests included Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943), the son of President Theodore Roosevelt; New York Herald Tribune publisher Ogden Mills Reid (1882-1947); Cosmopolitan magazine editor Ray Long (1878-1935); and aviation pioneer Ruth Rowland Nichols (1901-1960).

AMELIA EARHART; RICHARD BYRD. Signed Photograph of Clarence Chamberlain, Richard E. Byrd, Amelia Earhart, and Bernt Balchen, signed by latter three, July 7, 1930, New York, New York. 1 p., 8 x 10 in.

Inventory #27328       Price: $10,000

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) was born in Kansas and developed a passion for adventure at a young age. She gained flying experience in the 1920s and in 1928 became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic Ocean by airplane. Four years later, she became the first female pilot to make a nonstop solo transatlantic flight, for which she received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1931, she married publisher George P. Putnam after he had proposed to her several times. In 1935, Earhart became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University. She was a member of the National Woman’s Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. During an attempt to fly around the world in 1937, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.

Richard E. Byrd Jr. (1888-1957) was born in Virginia into one of the First Families of Virginia. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912 and was commissioned an ensign. He was retired in 1916 because of a foot injury but became a commander in the Rhode Island naval militia. During World War I, he qualified as a naval aviator and trained aviators in Florida. In 1925, he commanded the aviation unit in an arctic expedition to North Greenland. In May 1926, he and Navy Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett flew a Fokker Tri-motor monoplane to the North Pole and returned to their airfield in northern Norway, but their accomplishment was later disputed and remains a subject of controversy. For this flight, Byrd became a national hero, and both he and Bennett received the Medal of Honor. In 1927, Byrd and three others flew non-stop across the Atlantic just over a month after Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight. From 1928-1930, Byrd undertook an expedition to Antarctica, including a flight over the South Pole in 1929. For this expedition, Congress promoted Byrd to a rear admiral in the Navy. He went on to lead two more Antarctic expeditions before World War II and two more after. For his actions, Byrd received twenty-two citations and special commendations, including six Congressional medals, and is the only person to have three ticker-tape parades in New York City in his honor (1926, 1927, and 1930). President Eisenhower presented Byrd with the Medal of Freedom for his “outstanding accomplishments as Officer-in-Charge, U.S. Antarctic Programs, and his humanitarian contributions to the world.” Byrd married Marie Donaldson Ames (1889-1974) in 1915, and they had one son and three daughters.

Bernt Balchen (1899-1973) was born in Norway and attended Forestry School in 1917 and 1918. He joined the French Foreign Legion during World War I but was soon transferred to the Norwegian Army. He was wounded during the Finnish Civil War but convalesced and trained as a boxer to represent Norway in the 1920 Olympics. In 1921, he became a pilot in the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service. He was a member of the Amundsen-Ellsworth Relief Expedition and helped prepare the crew for the first successful attempt to fly over the North Pole in an airship. He helped repair Richard E. Byrd’s airplane that Byrd used to fly to the North Pole and back in 1926. In November 1929, he became one of the first four men to fly over the South Pole as pilot for Commander Richard E. Byrd. In 1931, Amelia Earhart hired Balchen as a technical adviser for her solo transatlantic flight in May 1932. In the mid-1930s, Balchen returned to Norway to work with Norwegian Airlines and helped to create a Nordic Postal Union. He was in Helsinki in 1939 when the Soviets attacked Finland. He enlisted with the Norwegian Air Force and made his way to the United States to arrange for the purchase of aircraft ordnance and ammunition for the Norwegian government. He helped establish “Little Norway” a training facility on an island in Lake Ontario where Norwegian aviators trained. From 1941 to 1943, he trained members of the U.S. Army Air Forces in cold weather survival and rescue skills to retrieve downed airmen. In 1944 and 1945, Balchen aided in the transportation of war supplies into occupied Norway and the evacuation of Norwegian citizens and American and other internees from Sweden. From 1948 to 1951, Balchen commanded a rescue squadron of the U.S. Air Force located in southern Alaska. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1956 but continued to serve as a consultant to the Air Force and several aviation and energy companies. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

Clarence Chamberlain (1893-1976) was born in Iowa and developed an early aptitude for the mechanical repair of clocks and watches brought to his father’s jewelry shop. He attended Iowa State College but left before graduating to operate a Harley-Davidson dealership. While attending the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1915, Chamberlain developed a passion for aviation. Back in Iowa, he expanded his Harley-Davidson dealership to include the sale and repair of REO automobiles and Diamond tires. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army Signal Corps as an aviator and attended the Aviation Ground School at the University of Illinois in 1918, receiving a commission as 2nd lieutenant and reporting to New Jersey late in the year only to learn that the war was over. After marrying and receiving a discharge, he ordered his own airplane but had to wait fourteen months for its delivery. With his new plane, he barnstormed around the country, charging interested persons for flights and delivering mail and taking aerial photographs for extra money. Inspired by the Orteig Prize, offered by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig for the first non-stop flight from New York City to Paris, Chamberlain and his friend Bert Acosta flew for more than 51 hours over Long Island in April 1927, breaking the world record for time in flight by more than six hours and covering 500 more miles than necessary to cross the Atlantic Ocean. After millionaire salvage dealer Charles A. Levine, the owner of the plane, replaced Chamberlain’s navigator and then rejected him, the navigator obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the plane from flying without him. This delay gave Charles Lindbergh and his “Spirit of St. Louis” the opportunity to cross the Atlantic first and win the Orteig Prize in May 1927. Two weeks later, Chamberlain with Levine as a passenger completed the second transatlantic flight and landed in Germany, exceeding Lindbergh’s flight by three hundred miles. After returning to the United States by ship, Chamberlain completed the first ship-to-shore mail flight from the SS Leviathan. Chamberlain then turned to designing and selling passenger aircraft. He also wrote a semi-autobiographical book entitled Record Flights (1928). During World War II, he trained thousands of workers in his aircraft factory to work in defense plants.

Condition: Minor edgewear; chip to lower left corner with minor loss not affecting image; approximately 1-in. closed tear to right margin just touching Balchen’s elbow and closed on verso with cellophane tape; lightly rubbed and scratched; Keystone View Co. label pasted to verso; pencil notations and ink stamp to verso; some damage to verso from removal of label, not affecting image.

Provenance: From the estate of record-breaking aviator, and Earhart author Elgen M. Long and his wife, fellow Earhart scholar Marie K. Long.

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