Speeding Flight

  • Prosperity
  • 1919

Raymond Orteig was a French immigrant to New York City who started as a hotel porter at age 12 and worked his way up to owning hotels. Impressed by the good that regularized air travel could do for international understanding, economic growth, and human exploration, Orteig created one of the first great philanthropic prizes in 1919. He donated $25,000 to be awarded to any aviator and team of engineers who succeeded in flying nonstop between New York and Paris.

That distance was twice as far as anyone had managed to stay airborne to date, but Orteig’s challenge spurred continual technological improvements. Six men died in various failed attempts over an eight-year period. Then in 1927, Charles Lindbergh lifted off from a Long Island airfield, buzzed across the gray Atlantic chop for 33 hours, and touched down outside Paris. Orteig happened to be vacationing in France and rushed to hand the pilot his check. It was estimated that Orteig’s $25,000 gift sparked 16 times that much investment in new technology, speeding America into the skies.

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