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I spend a bit of time on airplanes. My dad was a pilot and so recently I read a book about some famous aviators including Eddie Rickenbacker and Charles Lindbergh. I was fascinated by some ties to the Midwest where many of our travelers are from.

Eddie Rickenbacker was one the world’s greatest race car drivers and aviators. His dad died when he was 13 so Eddie left school and became a mechanic in the fledgling auto industry. He later became a sales manager, and was sent to work in Omaha Nebraska. He entered his first car race in Red Oak, Iowa.

He headed a race team for the Duesenberg brothers who were building cars in Des Moines, Iowa. His team came to Sioux City to enter the famed Sioux City 300. In 1914 it was one of the most notable races in the country, on par with the Indianapolis 500. Dignitaries and media from all over the world attended.

The Duesenberg’s company was near bankruptcy. The team slept outside, relied on the charity of strangers for food, and had no funds to get back to Des Moines.

Eddie won his first race ever at Sioux City that day, and claimed the $10,000 prize, quite a sum in 1914. Another driver on his team won third place, and $2500. That night, they ate good, showered, and stayed in the nicest hotel in town. They saved the company from bankruptcy.

Eddie went on to win many more races including a repeat in Sioux City. Rickenbacker later became a famous World War l flying Ace with 26 confirmed kills. This was in the days of the Red Baron. A time when the life expectancy of a pilot was measured in days. He lived an extraordinary life, surviving several terrible plane crashes, being lost at sea for 24 days on a small rubber raft, purchasing the Indianapolis 500 speedway, and leading Eastern Airlines.

Charles Lindbergh was a native of Minnesota. He attended the University of Wisconsin, but was kicked out because of grades. Don’t worry, the University of Wisconsin and many other Universities later awarded him honorary degrees.

Lindbergh went to Lincoln Nebraska to learn to fly, but had to agree to work for the instructor building aircraft. It was in Lincoln Lucky Lindy took his first flight. For a time, Slim Lindbergh made his living barnstorming around Iowa and Minnesota.

Of course, Lindbergh was undoubtedly the most famous and celebrated man in the world in 1927 when he made the first trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, France. Like Rickenbacker, he went on to live an extraordinary life, but not without difficulty. His infant son was kidnapped and killed. His star lost some luster when he gave an anti-war speech in Des Moines, Iowa that was viewed (though not correctly) as anti-semetic.

Short of the Wright brothers, whose biography is also fascinating, Rickenbacker and Lindbergh are the world’s most famous aviators in history. It’s nice to know they both got there big start right here in the Midwest.

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