May 11 is the birthday in 1875 of Harriet Quimby, the first woman to fly a plane across the English Channel and a famous pilot years before Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman took to the skies.

Quimby was a pilot ahead of nearly everyone, in fact; she got her pilot’s license in August 1911, the 37th licensed pilot ever.

Before that, the Michigan native was a journalist and writer who would go on adventures and write about what she’d done and saw, encouraging other women to do the same at a time when most people thought adventures were men’s work.

She rode in an automobile at 100 miles an hour back in 1906, for example.

But it was flying that hooked Quimby more than anything.

She had been flying for less than a year when she decided it was time that she flew a plane over the 22 miles of the English Channel, which she did in a borrowed plane, with an unfamiliar compass system, on a foggy day.

In other circumstances this would have made her a massive star, but Harriet Quimby happened to make the crossing April 16, 1912, days after the Titanic sank.

And, sadly, she would only live another three months, due to a flight gone wrong over Boston Harbor.

But while her career was short, it was enormously important: Harriet Quimby encouraged other women to fly the way she had.

And if you look into the long history of flight, of course, that’s exactly what’s happened.


Today’s also the day in 1858 that Minnesota became the 32nd state.

It’s known for its many lakes, being the home state of Prince and yes, the cold.

But it’s also got a state fair like no other, and I don’t mean the size or the food.

The 1901 Minnesota State Fair is where then-vice president Theodore Roosevelt made one of his most famous pronouncements. “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Harriet Quimby (National Aviation Hall of Fame)

Queen of the Channel Crossing (NOVA)

Sept. 3, 1901: Roosevelt ‘Big Stick’ speech at State Fair (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Thanks to our Patreon backers we can keep reaching new heights

Photo via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division