Clara Adams

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Clara Adams

Clara Adams (born Clara Grabau; 1884 – 1971), known as the "first flighter"[1] and the "maiden of maiden flights,"[2] was an aviator who set a variety of flying records. She helped popularize air travel[3] and is known for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger aboard the Graf Zeppelin.

Personal life[edit]

Adams was born in 1884 in Cincinnati, Ohio to German parents as Clara Grabau.[4] She later studied music in Leipzig, Germany.[4]

Adams was married to George Adams, who was affluent[4] and served as president of the American Leather Tanning Company.[1]


In March 1914, Adams embarked on her first flight in Florida on a Thomas flying boat. The flight was piloted by Walter E. Johnson, who would become a Captain in the U.S. Army, and reached an altitude of 700 feet, "a daring height in those pioneer days."[5] The flight would spark her interest in aviation.[6]

She was the first passenger on round-trip commercial flights across the Pacific, between New York and Bermuda, and between San Francisco and New Zealand. However, she is remembered primarily as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a ticketed passenger aboard the Graf Zeppelin on its return flight from New York in October 1928. Grace Marguerite Hay Drummond-Hay was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, on the outbound flight of the same journey, as a journalist. Adams also was the first woman to fly aboard the Dornier DO-X between New York and Rio de Janeiro and she was one of 11 women aboard the maiden flight of the Hindenburg.[7] Despite the end of public interest of airships due to the Hindenburg disaster, Adams was still eager to fly on airships.

In 1939, Adams set the unofficial record for passenger travel around the world via commercial air travel.[8] The trip lasted sixteen days and nineteen hours and covered 24,609 miles.[9] She departed from New York on the first flight of the Dixie Clipper across the Atlantic. According to a New York Times reporter, she returned to Newark, NJ, "clad in a tan-plaid tailored suit, made of Chinese silk, purchased in Hong Kong, and wearing a tan Panama straw hat, purchased in Rangoon."[10] She described the journey around the globe as "beautiful beyond description and sublime beyond the most vivid imagination of the human mind."[10]


Although Adams was not a pilot, her activities did much to popularize air travel. According to Adams, her journey around the world had demonstrated that air travel was "perfectly safe."[11] She corresponded with the famous female pilot Alys McKey Bryant. The historian Tom Friedman described Adams as "the Forrest Gump of aviation history."[12]


  1. ^ a b "Clara Adams". A Dirigible and Zeppelin History Site. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  2. ^ "Celebrate Women's History Month! | glma". Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  3. ^ "Tavares to honor historical figures along with famous aviators with alleyway names". tribunedigital-orlandosentinel. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  4. ^ a b c "No. 2543: Clara Adams Takes Flight". Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  5. ^ "Who was Clara Adams?". Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  6. ^ "Goldberg Coins and Collectibles". Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  7. ^ UT Dallas collection of Mrs. Adam's estate, with biographical details
  8. ^ "On This Day in NYC's History: No More Charity for Broadway". New York Natives. 2013-07-15. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  9. ^ Ganson, Barbara (2014). Texas Takes Wing : A Century of Flight in the Lone Star State. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 266–267. ISBN 9780292754089. 
  10. ^ a b Oakes, Claudia M. (1985). United States Women in Aviation 1930-1939 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 32. 
  11. ^ World, Times Wide (1939-07-16). "Woman Air Passenger Sets Mark In 16-Day Flight Around World; Mrs. Clara Adams, Guest of Honor at Fair, Tells Story of Trip That Cost Her $1,935 --Plans New Zealand Hop". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-04-30. 
  12. ^ "Clara Adams A lady of firsts". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 

External links[edit]

Archival holdings[edit]

The following collections contain documents or photographs relating to Clara Adams: