Aloha Wanderwell

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Aloha Wanderwell
Aloha Wanderwell publicity photo.jpg
Idris Galcia Welsh,

(1906-10-13)13 October 1906
Died4 June 1996(1996-06-04) (aged 89)
Other namesIdris Welsh, Idris Galcia Hall, Gilvis Wanderwell,[1] Aloha Wanderwell, Aloha W Baker
OccupationWorld Automobile Traveler, Filmmaker, Aviatrix, Author, Explorer, Travel lecturer, editor, screenwriter, radio performer, spoke 11 languages
Known forFirst Woman to Drive Around the World in an automobile, starting at 16. certified, Guinness World Records
Spouse(s)Walter Wanderwell (m. 1925)
Walter Baker (m. 1933)
ChildrenValri (b. 1925)
Nile (b. 1927)

Aloha Wanderwell (Idris Galcia Hall née Welsh, 13 October 1906 – 4 June 1996) was a Canadian-American internationalist, explorer, author, filmmaker, and aviatrix, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, who would later become a United States citizen at a young age. While still a teenager, she joined an expedition to travel around the world by Ford 1918 Model T, 1930 Model A, and a 1935 Touring Sedan — all Fords — and continued to use Fords until her death in 1996.

Aloha began her adventuring career when she met her traveling companion, Walter "Cap" Wanderwell, in 1922. They married in 1925 and had two children. As they continued to travel the world, Aloha performed on stage doing travel lectures while next to her a silent movie, Car and Camera Around the World, played. The Wanderwells recorded their world journeys on 35mm nitrate and 16mm film, which all reside in the vaults at The Academy Film Archives, Hollywood, California.

While stranded in Brazil, she lived among the Bororo people and recorded the earliest film documentation of them for six weeks. In 1932, her husband was shot and killed on his yacht Carma in Long Beach, California. Aloha later married Walter Baker and continued her travels, ultimately visiting over 80 countries and six continents, and driving over 500,000 miles all in Fords.

"First Female to Drive Around the World", 1922-1927[edit]

The first female to drive around the world was achieved by Aloha Wanderwell (USA/Canada) who traveled the world in a Ford Model T, starting and ending in Nice, France, between 29 December 1922 and January 1927.[2] Aloha travelled as driver, translator and film maker for the Wanderwell Expeditions, a round-the-world motoring tour led by Walter "Cap" Wanderwell (Poland).

Early life[edit]

Idris Galcia Welsh was born on 13 October 1906 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Margaret Headley and Robert Welsh. In 1909, her mother married Herbert Hall, and her name was changed to Idris Hall.[3] Her step-father was a developer and rancher on Vancouver Island and the family lived in Parksville and Duncan.[4] In 1914, at the start of the First World War, her step-father joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and after arriving in England was transferred to the British Army and made a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry. The family (Idris, her sister Margret "Miki" Hall, and their mother) followed him to Europe, where they traveled around England, Belgium, and France. In June 1917, Herbert Hall was killed in combat in Ypres, Belgium.[5]

Hoping to tame Idris's tomboyish tendencies, her mother sent her to boarding schools, first to Benedictine Soeurs du Saint-Sacrement in Courtrai, Belgium, later to Chateau Neuf in Nice.[4]

The Wanderwell Expedition[edit]

In 1921, Walter Wanderwell was capturing headlines with the Million Dollar Wager, a round-the-world endurance race between two teams racing Ford Model Ts to see which team could visit the most countries. A controversial figure, Wanderwell (born Valerian Johannes Pieczynski) had been jailed in the United States during World War I on suspicion of being a German spy, but was released in 1918. Wanderwell was inspired by his meeting with the League of Nations and around 1930 he formed his own organization Work Around the World Educational Club or (WAWEC).[5]

In 1922, when she was 16, Idris met Walter Wanderwell for the first time, after responding to one of his advertisements declaring "Brains, Beauty & Breeches – World Tour Offer For Lucky Young Woman…. Wanted to join an expedition… Asia, Africa…" She met with "Captain" Wanderwell in Paris and secured a seat on the expedition. She served as the expedition's translator, driver and secretary, and took on the name "Aloha Wanderwell," even though Walter was still married to Nell at the time, but divorced after Aloha joined the expedition.[5]

Partially sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, the round-the-world tour also sustained itself through filming and travel lectures, from Africa through the Middle East and on to Asia. In Calcutta in 1924, their tour crossed paths with planes from the first aerial circumnavigation, and Aloha filmed their meeting.[6]

They came to the United States in January 1925. Aloha would become an American citizen and marry Wanderwell on April 7, 1925, in Riverside, California. Their marriage foiled a plan by FBI agents to arrest Pieczynski under the Mann Act, a law that prohibits transporting women across state lines for "immoral purposes."[5][7]

Aloha gave birth to a daughter, Valri, in December, 1925 and son Nile in April, 1927. The Wanderwells continued their travels, sailing to Cuba and South Africa. Aside from dealing with poor roads, the Wanderwells also had difficulty finding gasoline for their vehicles. During their travels through Africa from 1926–1928, they used crushed bananas for grease and elephant fat for engine oil.[8] The global tour included 43 countries. Author Stookie Allen contends that during this time, Hall cut her hair and fought as a member of the French Foreign Legion.[4]

The Wanderwells returned to the United States where they made a home in Miami in 1929 and donated one of their Model Ts, known as Little Lizzie, to Henry Ford before the screening of the film, Car and Camera Around the World.[9] In 1942, Henry Ford decided that Little Lizzie and 50 other autos would be scrapped for the war effort.[10]


In 1930 and 1931, Aloha learned to fly a German seaplane, "Junker" that she would later land on an uncharted part of the Amazon River when the Wanderwells traveled to the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil. They set up camp at the Descalvados Ranch in Cuiabá and were ostensibly searching for lost explorer Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett, who was looking for the legendary Lost City of Z (some speculate this to either be synonymous or different to the legendary city of Eldorado). They made several flights with a seaplane, once running out of fuel on the Paraguay River and receiving help from the Bororo people. The crew's cameraman filmed a ceremonial dance, a first contact scenario with Boboré villagers, and Bororo men experiencing sympathetic labor pains. The 32-minute silent film called Last of the Bororos is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution's Human Studies Film Archives and includes Aloha's meeting with Brazilian explorer Cândido Rondon.[4][11][12]

Murder of Walter Wanderwell[edit]

In late 1932, the couple purchased a yacht, the 110-foot Carma, intending to document their voyage to the South Seas on film. On December 5, 1932, the day before they were to embark, Walter Wanderwell was murdered on the yacht in the harbor near Long Beach, California.[13] William James Guy, a member of their 1931 expedition to South America who had attempted to mutiny on a previous voyage, was tried for the crime. Guy had an alibi and was acquitted by the jury and Judge Kenny.[5][14] Another man, Edward Eugene Fernando Montague, was briefly considered a suspect, but was never charged.[5]


Aloha later married Walter Baker in Louisiana[5] The couple traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, India, Cambodia, Wyoming USA & Indochina, with Aloha later recounting being surrounded by five herds of elephants and having to shoot their way out.[15] Her final films include To See the World by Car (1935–37), India Now, and Explorers of the Purple Sage, in Technicolor, which contains the only known footage of Desert Dust, the famous palomino wild horse. All films were made with Walter Baker.

She continued to give lectures and wrote an autobiographical account of her travels, Call to Adventure!, published in 1939, and later republished in 2012. The couple eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio where Wanderwell worked in radio broadcasting, WlW Radio 1939, and print journalism. In 1947, she and Walter Baker moved to Lido Isle community in Newport Beach, California. Aloha gave her final performance in front of 150 family members and guests, with Dr. Pete Lee, curator at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles in 1982. She died on June 4, 1996.[5]


Footage by Aloha Wanderwell is held at the Academy Film Archive and AMPAS in the Aloha Wanderwell Baker Film Collection. The Academy Film Archive has preserved approx. 66 cans, 1000' each of film 35mm Nitrate and 16mm, including rare 1920s and 1930s footage.[16]



  • Car and Camera Around the World
  • To See the World by Car
  • River of Death
  • Cape to Cairo
  • Last of the Bororos
  • Flight to the Stone Age
  • Australia Now
  • Victory in the Pacific
  • My Hawaii
  • Magic of Mexico
  • India Now
  • Explorers of the Purple Sage


  1. ^ Blairmore Enterprise, December 15, 1932 (copperplate newspaper article reprinted in many rural newspapers at the time)
  2. ^ Guinness World Records: First Woman to Drive Around the World in an Automobile, 1922–1937
  3. ^ Obee, Dave (November 20, 2016). "Fearless young adventurer had roots on the Island". Times Colonist. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Levine, Allan E. "Aloha Wanderwell". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Newton, Michael (2009). "Wanderwell, Walter". The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes (2nd ed.). New York: Facts on File. pp. 385–387. ISBN 978-1-4381-1914-4.
  6. ^ Bell, Joseph N. (September 30, 1989). "The Newport Connection to 'Great Air Race'". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Levine, Allan E. "Aloha Wanderwell, Walter Piecynski, assorted hanky-panky and the Mann Act". Armchair Adventurers. Archived from the original on 23 January 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  8. ^ "Globe-Circling Car to be Gift to Ford: Aloha Wanderwell to Present Dearborn Museum Auto She and Husband Used". The New York Times. November 30, 1929. On this trip they used kerosene for gasoline, crushed bananas for grease in the differential and water and elephant fat for oil in the engine, she said. In India on their round-the-world trip oxen were required frequently to tow the Ford across mud flats and rivers, and in China in 1924, when civil warfare made it impossible to purchase fuel, coolies towed the car for eighty miles...
  9. ^ "Around-the-World Movie: Miss Wanderwell's Exploits With Camera Shown at Fifth Avenue". The New York Times. December 17, 1929.
  10. ^ Treace, Dan. "The Wanderwell Expedition: Model T Fords circle the globe 1919–1925". Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Last of the Bororos 1930–1931". Human Studies Film Archives. Smithsonian Institution.
  12. ^ Staples, Amy J. (2006). "Safari Adventure: Forgotten Cinematic Journeys in Africa". Film History: An International Journal. 18 (4): 392–411. doi:10.1353/fih.2007.0007.
  13. ^ "Guy Arraigned in Yacht Murder; Hearing Dec. 19". St. Joseph Gazette. December 15, 1932.
  14. ^ "Wanderwell Note Lost Since Death: Widow, at Trial, Says Missing Paper Involved Guy, the Man Accused of Murder". The New York Times. February 4, 1933.
  15. ^ "World Traveler Received Greatest Thrill in View of Rulers at Close Range". Ottawa Citizen. June 22, 1939.
  16. ^ "Aloha Wanderwell Film Collection". Academy Film Archive.

Further reading[edit]

  • Baker, Aloha (1939). Call to Adventure!. New York: R.M. McBride & company. OCLC 3431170.
  • Papers of Aloha Baker, 1918–1932.
  • Aloha Wanderwell Call to Adventure: True Tales of the Wanderwell Expedition, First Women to Circle the World in an Automobile. ISBN 1484118804
  • Christian Fink-Jensen with Randolph Eustace-Walden Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer published by Goose Lane (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2016

External links[edit]