(The following was written by Janet Ruff of Goddard Spaceflight Center and appeared in "Air and Space," Jan. - Feb. 1980. It is an excerpt from page 57 of "Of Wings and Things" by NASA Aerospace Education Specilists Norman O. Poff.)
FIRST MAN TO CROSS THE UNITED STATES BY AIRPLANE
Few men have met and conquered the obstacles that Calbraith Perry Rodgers faced in accepting the challenge of a coast-to-coast flight across the United States in 1911 - fewer than 8 years after the Wright brothers made the first successful flights in an airplane.
William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the Los Angeles "Examiner," offered a $50,000 prize to the first pilot to cross North America by air in 30 days. "Cal" Rodgers planned to compete for the prize by flying a Wright EX biplane. He received financial support for airplane parts, fuel, mechanics, a special railroad train, and other expenses from the J. Ogden Armour Company. In return for this financial support, Rodgers agreed to advertise the Armour Company's Vin Fiz grape soda drink. He painted the Vin Fiz name on the tail and wings of his airplane.
Rodgers took off from Sheepshead Bay, Long Island, NY, on September 17, 1911. Because of numerous delays, his transcontinental flight to Pasadena, California, took 49 days, too long to win the Hearst prize. Nevertheless, Rodgers did become the first to fly across the continent, reaching Pasadena on November 5, 1911. Today the restored "Vin Fiz" hangs in the Pioneers of Flight gallery at the National Air and Space Museum.
Flight Notes: (Also quoted from "Of Wings & Things," p. 58.)
Well-wishers cheered Cal Rodgers as he lifted off from a grassy field in Sheepshead Bay, Long Island, on September 17, 1911.
Rodgers jammed newspapers under his vest for extra warmth. Cal Rodgers enjoyed a seemingly ever-present cigar between flights while mechanics made last-minute adjustments to the "Vin Fiz."
Miraculously surviving several crashes, like one at Huntingdon, Indiana, Rodgers broke both legs and ankle, and a collarbone, cracked several ribs, and was thrown from the "Vin Fiz" 15 times during the cross-country flight.
Cal Rodgers felt his transcontinental trip would not be complete until he actually flew to the Pacific Ocean. On December 10, 1911, he taxied the "Vin Fiz" into the ocean off Long Beach, California with his crutches lashed to the top of his lower left wing; Rodgers was still recovering from a recent crash.