Harriet Quimby

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Harriet Quimby
Harriet Quimby 1911.jpg
Quimby circa 1911
Born (1875-05-11)May 11, 1875
Arcadia, Michigan, U.S.
Died July 1, 1912(1912-07-01) (aged 37)
Squantum, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Writer, aviator
Parent(s) Ursula (née Cook) and William Quimby

Harriet Quimby (May 11, 1875 – July 1, 1912) was an early American aviator and a movie screenwriter. In 1911, she was awarded a U.S. pilot's certificate by the Aero Club of America, becoming the first woman to gain a pilot's license in the United States.[1] In 1912, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. Although Quimby lived only to the age of thirty-seven, she had a major influence upon the role of women in aviation.

Early life and early career[edit]

She was born on May 11, 1875 in Arcadia Township, Manistee County, Michigan. After her family moved to San Francisco, California, in the early 1900s, she became a journalist. She moved to Manhattan, New York City in 1903 to work as a theater critic for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly and more than 250 of her articles were published over a nine-year period.[2]

Quimby became interested in aviation in 1910, when she attended the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament in Elmont, New York.[2] There she met John Moisant, a well-known aviator and operator of a flight school, and his sister Matilde.[3][4]

On August 1, 1911, she took her pilot's test and became the first U.S. woman to earn an Aero Club of America aviator's certificate.[2] Matilde Moisant soon followed and became the nation's second certified female pilot.[5]


In 1911 Quimby authored seven screenplays or scenarios that were made into silent film shorts by Biograph Studios. All seven were directed by director D. W. Griffith. Stars in her films included Florence La Badie, Wilfred Lucas, and Blanche Sweet. Quimby had a small acting role in one movie.[6]

Vin Fiz[edit]

The Vin Fiz Company, a division of Armour Meat Packing Plant of Chicago, recruited Quimby as the spokesperson for the new grape soda, Vin Fiz, after the death of Calbraith Perry Rodgers in April 1912. Her distinctive purple aviator uniform and image graced many of the advertising pieces of the day.[7]

English Channel[edit]

On April 16, 1912, Quimby took off from Dover, England, en route to Calais, France and made the flight in 59 minutes, landing about 25 miles (40 km) from Calais on a beach in Équihen-Plage, Pas-de-Calais. She became the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the English Channel.[8] Her accomplishment received little media attention, however, as the sinking of the RMS Titanic the day before consumed the interest of the public and filled newspapers.[9]


Harriet Quimby and Matilde Moisant

On July 1, 1912, she flew in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts.[1] Ironically, although she had obtained her ACA certificate to be allowed to participate in ACA events, the Boston meet was an unsanctioned contest. Quimby flew out to Boston Light in Boston Harbor at about 3,000 feet, then returned and circled the airfield.[10] William A.P. Willard, the organizer of the event and father of the aviator Charles Willard, was a passenger in her brand-new two-seat Bleriot monoplane. At an altitude of 1,000 feet (300 m) the aircraft unexpectedly pitched forward for reasons still unknown. Both Willard and Quimby were ejected from their seats and fell to their deaths, while the plane "glided down and lodged itself in the mud".[4]

Harriet Quimby was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York. The following year her remains were moved to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.[citation needed]


A 1991 United States airmail postage stamp featured Quimby.[11]

She is memorialized in two official Michigan historical markers. One is located near Coldwater where she was born.[12] The other was erected near the now abandoned farmhouse in Arcadia Township where Quimby grew up.[13]

In 2004 Quimby was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.[3]

In 2012 Quimby was inducted into the Long Island Air and Space Hall of Fame.[14]

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome possesses a flyable Anzani-powered one-seater Blériot XI, which bears the Blériot factory's serial number 56, showing that it was manufactured in 1909. Since Quimby's plane, in 1912, was a brand new two-seater, the idea that the former was the aircraft that she was flying in 1912 seems to be an urban legend.[15]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Miss Quimby Dies In Airship Fall. Noted Woman Aviator and W.A.P. Willard, Passenger, Are Thrown 1,000 Feet". New York Times. July 2, 1912. 
  2. ^ a b c Tallman, Jill W. (August 2, 2011). "Thanks, Harriet" (Harriet Quimby profile). AOPA Pilot. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Harriet Quimby profile". The National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "Harriet Quimby profile". centennialofflight.net. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  5. ^ "An American Lady Aviator". Flight. August 26, 1911. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ Internet Movie Database, Harriet Quimby (and links therein); accessed April 16, 2009.
  7. ^ Holden, Henry M. "Vin Fiz reborn". Airport journal. Retrieved August 14, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Miss Quimby Flies The Channel"Flight 20 April 1912
  9. ^ "Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg". New York Times. April 16, 1912. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  10. ^ "Harriet Quimby Crash, 1912". CelebrateBoston.com. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  11. ^ Sama, Dominic (April 28, 1991). "Stamp Honors First Woman Licensed Pilot". Chicago Tribune. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  12. ^ "Harriet Quimby". The Historical Marker database. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  13. ^ "Harriet Quimby Childhood Home". The Historical Marker database. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  14. ^ Melanson, Alana (May 16, 2012). "Fitchburg pays tribute to first woman to fly across English Channel". Fitchburg, Massachusetts: Sentinel & Enterprise. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  15. ^ Pat Trenner (April 15, 2013). "Did Harriet Quimby’s Blériot End Up in New York?". airspacemag. Retrieved March 2, 2016. 

External links[edit]